The Quest Within A Question

For three weeks, I had been going to the domestic violence/sexual assault recovery center.  I was checking out books from their library in an effort to know if I had done the right thing.  On one particular day, I was checking out the fifth book when the organization’s clinical therapist asked me to come to her office.  I just knew I was in trouble.  I bet that my presence had offended a female client.

I was 19 years old and not wise to the ways of the world.

“I am a therapist here and I noticed that you have been coming here for several weeks,” she remarked.  I was certain that she was about to ask me to never return.  “I wanted to give you an opportunity to know that if you needed to talk with a professional about something that may have happened to you that you are welcome to speak with me.”

“It didn’t happen to me.  It happened to a friend of mine,” I explained.

“Ok, so what happened to your ‘friend,’” she inquired with emphasis on the last word.  It was clear she thought I was the victim and afraid to disclose.  Once we had cleared up the misperception, I went back to my original purpose.

“My friend was raped,” I said.   I was in her dorm room to find out how her date went that night.  She told me what happened.”

I detailed what my friend endured during the rape.  “I have read all of these books and I can’t find the answer to my question,” I exasperatedly said.  “I want to know if I was wrong.”

“Wrong about what?” she puzzled out loud.

“After she told me she was raped, I asked her if I could give her a hug.  She said she could really use one of my hugs.  Was that wrong?  Aren’t I suppose to not touch a girl after she’s been raped?”

The therapist answered my question, “That was perfect because you gave her the choice and control over her body.”   My friend was able to reaffirm her physical boundary.  “So you read all of those books to find that out?”

“None of them could answer my question and I didn’t want to have made things worse,” I stated.

“You really care about this, don’t you?” She inquired.  I nodded affirmatively since my emotions locked up my words.  “Would you like to volunteer?”

These stranger’s words set me on a course where my life would no longer be the same.  I never conceived that a man could advocate in an area I thought men were forbidden.  Let’s face it, men cause the violence and I could play a role in the healing process.  I volunteered for three years conducting training, answering crisis calls, and holding support groups for family/friends of survivors.  I have worked in the social services/education arenas ever since that day the therapist posed that question.

Some twenty years later, I am employed as a Case Manager doing Social Work with the goal to end domestic violence.

Domestic violence is not a Women’s issue; although, the majority of the voices for change have been female.

The organization’s president, where I am employed, has the goal of ending domestic violence.  I had the same thought when I heard my favorite Social Work professor declare that she wants to end poverty.  “Yeah, right!” I thought both times I heard these unrealistic proposals.

Just like the original debate that needled at my heart some twenty years ago, I have mulled over this question: How can I help to end domestic violence?

I don’t have an answer as of yet.

My intentions are to read everything I can, talk with stakeholders, be open to opportunities to grow, and do my best to treat each client with compassion.  The answer eludes me and I choose to embark upon this journey.  With the resources I have, I will use my voice to speak up.  I will use my body to stand up for what is right.  With my ears, I will actively listen to those in need.  I will use my hands to applaud those who need encouragement.  With my heart, I will love my wife and our family.  I will use my feet to exercise and work off the stress such a question may generate.  Lastly, I will use my brain to identify the avenues towards a freedom from domestic violence and unlock the shackles that bind families into generational cycles of abuse.

While I am only one person, I have the opportunity to be that individual who can help guide a survivor to safety.  I will search for the answer how to end domestic violence.  I know this expedition will be full of mental and physical challenges.  Each passage I choose shall provide a wealth of experience and growth that only makes me stronger.



Who’s on first?

I had an Abbott & Costello moment as I volunteered at a food pantry.  As I was unloading boxes and stacking the contents into sorted groups, the confusion began.

“Oh, we have too many of these and we need some over there,” was told to me.
Hard Reality #1, blind folks are not sure when a person is speaking to them. All too often, a person walks by and says, “Hello! How are you?” We begin to answer as the certain someone, the person was directing the greeting towards, then answers. The person and the blind person both feel awkward. “Oh, I was saying ‘Hi’ to you, too!” is a common response I’ve dealt with as of the last few years. In a way, it is a conditioned response for us to wait to be named or we clarify, “Are you speaking to me?” “Ah, no, I was saying ‘Hi’ to my friend.: is what we get back the majority of the time.
“I’m blind. Are you speaking to me: I asked.  “Yes, yes, half of this needs to go over there.”
Hard Reality #2 Words like “There”, “These”, “Those”, “Over there”, “That”, “Here”, “This”,and other ambiguous terms mean very little to blind people. We are not stupid. Now wait, some blind people are stupid but it has nothing to do with their blindness. Our eyes don’t work correctly. If a table exists five feet away, it might as well be forty feet away because we don’t know it exists unless we are told. A circus clown could be waving at us and unless the clown is squeezing their honking nose, we would never know.
I stop the person and explain that open term like “these” or “there” do not detail what is expected.
 “I am blind. I need you to be specific. Are you talking about the stacks of mash potatoes or the stacks of hash browns?”
Attempting to clarify, “Both?” “No, these ones.”

Hard Reality #3 There are not a lot of blind people in public life. People with disabilities are like unicorns or mythical creatures. Crazy comparison? I’ll prove my point. An average person finds out I’m blind, 98% of the time they tell me about a blind person they saw once. How many times do you see a blind person shopping at a retail store. Thank you. I proved my argument. Rainbows are more frequent than blind people in public. Spotting a blind person is like seeing a rainbow. If the person is deaf AND blind, you got yourself a double rainbow there! Given the status of public transportation in certain geographic areas, getting around in the community has its challenges. Going to the store, work, doctor, or to volunteer can be problematic. Jennifer took off work so I could volunteer.

Buying into my assertion that the general public has rare opportunities to interact with people with disabilities, awkward circumstances can occur. I don’t fault able bodied individuals for not knowing the etiquette and not every person with a disability will interact in the same way.
In the now cancelled NBC show “Growing Up Fisher”, one of the priceless lines the lead character used when interacting with a person in the general public, “In case you are blind, I’m blind.” Ask my buddy Jason Rudd, telling someone that “I am blind” was very difficult. It is a Hard Reality that we, as people with disabilities, have trouble dealing with over time. We don’t want to be prejudged so I used to say, “I’m visually impaired” which Rudd pointed out means “zero” to the average person. “You have to tell them in words they understand. What does visually impaired mean? They don’t know. Say you are blind and work from there.” Good advice that I use. By the way, Mr. MaGoo was visually impaired.
“Ok, so there is another table and it is where?” I asked.
“The table is over there.” the person stated.
“Yeah, that doesn’t mean anything to me. I need to know where the table is located specifically,”” I restated.
“Next to the other tables.” the person explains.
Hard Reality #4 Like any other person, people with disabilities have anxiety and internal dialogues. My heart rate increased and I could feel myself begin to shut down. I am volunteering because I want to prove that I can still contribute and I’m just trying to fit in.
After a deep breath, “I am not understanding what you would like me to do.”
“There are too many of these and they need to be over there,” the individual “details” to me.
With my eye brows raised, “I am sorry but I’m blind. I need you to tell me where the table is – exactly.”
The person says, “Behind me.”
“How far behind you?” I inquire.
“A few feet,” the person replies.
“Ok, how many boxes need to go to the table behind you?” I ask.
“Oh, about half,” the person says.
Not wanting to give up, “Ok. you say half but do you mean half of what I have unboxed and stacked or half of ALL of the mash potatoes?”
“Oh, half of the mashed potatoes. Can you understand that?” the person asked to me.
Do you remember the old school Bruce Banner when he started to get mad and you could see he was about to turn into the Incredible Hulk? I was there but my shades masked the internal fire that blazed from my eyes.
“Do you want me to continue to unbox the mash potatoes?”
“If you want,” the person states.
“Ok, here’s my idea. I’ll unbox the rest of the mash potatoes and stack them. Once I do that, I’ll move half to the table behind you. Does that work?”
“I guess.” the person says as they walk away.
In my head, I pictured the images of Costello ripping the hat from his head while Abbott explained the name of the guy on First Base. I tore open the boxes of mash potatoes and stacked the individual boxes. My skin became less green.
Hard Reality #5 A huge majority of people who are blind are unemployed or under employed. There are many reasons. Now, I gave up on my dream to be a Driving School Instructor and I’ve set my sights on being a Social Worker. I applaud the people who are blind and have jobs. Being employed reinforces self worth and dignity. Contributing to the community, also, has superb value. While we can be seen as often as the Unicorn, people with disabilities are very real. We want to be included. We want that opportunity.
I would like to write further; however, a chupacabra is stopping by for lunch.