Last fall, the news was full of stories about Ray Rice and Janay Palmer. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten those hard-to-watch images of Ray’s elevator abuse toward his then-fiancée. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten the way Janay Palmer was talked down to and questioned for her choices, the way she was victimized again by strangers everywhere. I haven’t forgotten what I told her – “You do not deserve this, you are not alone, and this is not your fault.” I haven’t forgotten my pledge to be here when she’s ready to call.
And last December, the tragic story of Nicole Stone and six members of her family slain by Bradley Stone, led the newscasts and was front-page news for weeks. This story hit close to home here in Bucks County. Do you remember the fear that rippled through so many when the killer was reported to be hiding out in Doylestown?
In the spring we heard about Nicole Peppelman, a friend to many in our community, murdered by her estranged husband in a scene that will haunt us forever.
These are the past year’s stories of domestic violence that we know about, the stories that made the news, got shared on social media. But there were more stories that we didn’t hear. More abuse and fatalities that many of us weren’t aware of, names the newscasters never read on TV.
In Bucks County, the list of domestic violence fatalities grew by six names since our last Vigil in October 2014:
Mary Ellen Curry, female, 56 years old, shot
Lorraine Patterson, female, 95 years old, beaten
Inna Sereda, female, 61 years old, shot
Kristin McNally, female, 32 years old, strangled
Miguel Feliciano, male, 23 years old, stabbed
Alan Goodrich, male, 66 years old, stabbed
None of these names are less newsworthy than those I mentioned earlier. None of these people were less loved by family and friends, none of them are less missed by those they left behind. They simply did not make that day’s news cycle.
Tonight we keep Vigil for all of them, we light a candle for all of them. For those whose names were read on Action News, and for those whose names were not. For all of those we lost last year and the years before.
We also keep Vigil for all those that are still here. Whether they are here with us in this church tonight, or if we will see them later this week, they are here and we celebrate that. We celebrate their strength, their perseverance, their power and their empowerment. We will strive to keep them safe and support them in finding their own secure paths. We will continue to listen to their stories of struggle and success and challenge ourselves to genuinely connect so that none of us are alone.
In thinking about tonight and this Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the work that we do, I found myself pulled to the words and work of Brené Brown. Brené Brown is a vulnerability researcher and author of several books including The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and her latest work, Rising Strong. Echoing in my mind were some of my favorite of her words. She said, “The most beautiful things I look back on in my life are coming out from underneath things I didn’t know I could get out from underneath. The moments that made me, were moments of struggle.”
At the heart of this work – the individuals and community that we serve, and those of us doing the daily work when we do it well – at the heart of this work is vulnerability. It is at the center of meaningful human experience. It is courage. Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen in our lives, even if and when things don’t go well. Courage is born out of that vulnerability.
But vulnerability is hard and uncomfortable. Our culture has taught us to hide our vulnerabilities and suggested that vulnerability is about weakness rather than strength. In fact, vulnerability can make us stronger. We can reject our aversion to vulnerability and, instead, practice being uncomfortable. We can show up and be seen, even when things don’t go well.
I believe that in our discomfort and our struggle is hope. When we experience adversity, we learn hope. For those that we remember tonight, without question there was discomfort. There was adversity and struggle. We can allow that to defeat us, or we can choose to honor their lives and worth by learning and committing to hope.
Not unlike my words to Janay Palmar last fall, this is hard. This is hard, this is tough, and this hurts. But you are not alone. None of us are alone. And understand, the vulnerability and struggle does not change the fact that you are worthy of love and belonging. We all are. To truly honor the lives that we celebrate tonight, we must bravely remember and claim that.
Frankly, and I’ll again borrow Brené Brown’s words here, “Feeling vulnerable, imperfect, and afraid is human. It’s when we lose our capacity to hold space for these struggles that we become dangerous.” Together, you and I can prevent the danger and embrace our humanity.
I don’t want to spend my days and energy being afraid. I don’t know exactly where we’re going or what we’ll encounter along the way, but I do know that through honest and courageous conversations, vulnerable and brave conversations, we’ll find hope through the struggle and move toward our full and brilliant potential. Our gift to those we honor tonight, our gift to the world, is that vulnerability enables us to genuinely connect and be compassionate. When we own and share our stories, we see ourselves reflected back and know that we are not alone. It’s hard, but it’s our common humanity. It’s hope, and it’s where we achieve our vision of individuals and communities flourishing. As we keep Vigil, let’s honor all of the lives and commit ourselves to the hope and courage born from struggle.
Adapted from Remarks at the 2015 Domestic Violence Awareness Month Vigil by AWP Executive Director Ifeoma U. Aduba