Competing With an Epidemic
Domestic abuse (and all related types of abuse – sexual, verbal, emotional, financial, and so on) aren’t going to magically evaporate one of these days. The sad truth, is that even if there were a thousand more Shelters working and educating around the world, abuse would still happen somewhere. That idea might make one hopeless. And trust me, similar feelings are not uncommon among those that work in fields like ours. At times, working to end hunger in a third world country or with children that have been trafficked must feel like an endless task. You come to the end of a difficult but rewarding journey with one person, and three more walk in the door. The question we ask ourselves, time and time again – whether we realize it or not – is this, “What’s the point?”
Why bother doing the work we do? Why continue to take tiny steps forward against what feels like an ocean of a problem? Does the work we do even make an impact? Are we struggling day in and day out to bring about an end to the epidemic or just to treat a localized outbreak? Questions like these often begin to weigh down our minds and harden our hearts. If we’re not careful, mindful of the state of our souls and diligently seeking support and self-care, it is a slippery slope to becoming burnt out. When a client we thought we’d helped gain the confidence and independence to start fresh turns around and falls back into a familiar situation, it can be heartbreaking to watch. It makes us pause, try to catch our breath, and ask, “What’s the point?”
Let me tell you what I think – not that you asked, sorry about that.
- The point is, that the work we are doing is some kind of ‘good.’ Some kind of force that pushes back at the tide. Some kind of light that we are able to send into the darkness where and when we can. In a world where so often it seems like the negative is going to blot out all happiness, there are people rising up to say “Stop!” There are people rising up to help educate others, to defend those who have trouble defending themselves, to restore rights to those from whom they’ve been taken. You might even be one of those people without realizing it!
- The point is, that choosing to come to work everyday is our way of saying, “Domestic abuse doesn’t have to go on forever.” Even if we don’t make as big of an impact as we’d like, or we don’t help every single person as much as we’d hoped, or we watch as someone turns around and returns to a situation from their past – we still believe there is hope. For a future where domestic abuse is rare and not so casual. For a generation to rise up and choose peace and harmony as their defining characteristics.
- The point is, that even if we only succeeded in helping one woman – it would make it all worth it. At the end of the day, countless failures or sad endings will not out-balance the scales – even if we only have a lasting impact on a single person, it makes it all worth it.
To drive that final point home, let me share a story. I have heard it in many places, many times, but always for a single reason – it helps us make sense of what we do; what so many people do and dedicate their lives to doing. It’s original form comes from a short story called “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eisley, and was published in 1969. This is my summarized version.
Once upon a time, an old woman was walking down the beach in the early morning. Mixed into the sands near the edge of the water were thousands of small starfish, their little spiny bodies piled up on top of one another haphazardly. The old woman stepped carefully around them as she plodded on, taking notice of their plight, but continuing her walk.
Minutes later, as she crested a small dune, she saw a small figure down the beach. From what she could tell, the figure appeared to be throwing something out into the blue waters of the bay. As he got closer, the figure came into focus – a small boy, perhaps 9 or 10. He was tirelessly bending down to gather armfuls of starfish and then throwing them one by one as far as he could out into the water. She paused for a moment, watching him pick up a few more starfish and continue with his seemingly purposeless task. When he didn’t appear to be tiring or showing any intention of slowing down, she walked up the beach towards him.
“Lad,” she called out, “What are you doing?”
Looking back at her confused, he said quite plainly, “Saving these starfish of course! The tide brought them up too high, and they’d all die in the heat if I left them.”
Smiling kindly, the old woman replied, “But there are so many, thousands in fact. I’m afraid you won’t make much of a difference.”
Kneeling in the sand, the boy picked up a single starfish. Bringing it up to his eye, he smiled at it before pulling back and flinging it out into the waves. Looking back to the old woman he smiled again, “Made a difference to that one!”
The old woman found herself touched and humbled by the boy’s response. Bending down next to him, she picked up a starfish and threw it out into the sea.
Soon, others stopped to ask what they were doing, and once they heard the boy’s story they found themselves setting down their cameras and iPhones to join in.
They didn’t save all the starfish. But they saved many. All because a little boy took the time to see a glimmer of hope and throw just 1 starfish back into the sea.
We’re quite the same to that little boy. We can’t save all. We try hard to fight the tide and often lose. But we keep gathering those we can and try to give them a second chance.
And that, is the point.