Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Light the Night: Peace Begins at Home

It was well past dark when I came into the town that marks the half way point between work and home, and noticed the luminaries lining the main street.

If I'd been any other traveler, I might have driven past the lights, thinking how festive they were for the holidays, wondering if there were some special celebration in town (though there wasn't a soul out on the street), or whether they did that regularly in the downtown business district.  But it took me only about a minute before I saw that the bags had been marked with stickers, realized that it was early December, and made the connection: I knew what they were for, and I sucked in my breath, remembering.

When we first moved to our neighborhood, in 2005, my neighbor asked me to serve on the Board of Trustees for the county's domestic violence agency.   She was the executive director, as soon as I introduced myself on our move-in day, ringing her doorbell to ask if I could borrow some aluminum foil, sporting my University Women's Retreat sweatshirt, she decided that I could be useful to her.  "Look mom," her teenaged son pointed out from behind her in the doorway, "she's even wearing the right shirt."

A few weeks later when she made the ask, I think I made some sort of comment that day about how I wasn't really qualified, but by my second month in town I was attending bi-weekly Thursday night meetings.  It was an an astoundingly large organization with significant influence in the county, and I served on the board for about four years, until I thought I was going to have a second child, and things started to get complicated.  Though I knew more than I might have wanted to about domestic violence and sexual assault going in to the position, I learned a lot about community outreach during those years, and I credit the Communities of Light event with helping me to really get to know my neighbors.

Communities of Light was started as a way to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault; the lumaniaries were supposed to serve as a symbol of hope for those whose lives had been affected by violence, suggesting that the community itself would offer a space of solace and comfort, even when victims couldn't find that at home.  The agency sold luminary kits, and board members would take a few cases, first to our neighbors, and then to businesses in town, who would all light the candles on the same night, sending a collective message as a community about support for victims, and a reminder that "Peace Begins at Home.".  I felt a little like a Girl Scout going door to door with the carefully piled the luminary kits in my son's red wooden wagon, he squashed into the back holiding the money, but I was always proud when, on the appointed night, I'd look down our street at the lines of flickering candles.

Universities have been struggling with sexual assault in a very public way recently, and I'd like to ask the community to hold survivors in its thoughts during the holiday season, when it's not uncommon to see even higher than usual incidences of violence, not just at our institutions (which see increases at other times if the year), but in your hometowns. When you see lights lining streets or in windows, please remember that Peace Begins at Home. and remember that someone you know--female or male-- might need a safe space, too.

This fight is not theirs alone. Shouldn't we all stand up say we've had enough?
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  1. This post and your one about Ferguson have given me a lot to think about. You're right that there is a need to acknowledge and listen. To hear the things many would like to believe do not exist in this country; in our communities. May awareness bring a willingness to listen. And with listening, change.

  2. This is so timely. I wasn't aware of Communities of Light or what may have inspired it, but Saturday will mark 25 years since the "Montreal Massacre" of 1989, in which 14 female engineering students were separated from their male peers, shot & killed -- simply because they were women. We thought things might change after that -- sadly, they haven't -- but there have been some encouraging signs recently. I hope the progress continues.


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