When Love Hurts…

Today the young women of Saint Dominic Academy will hear a very important message. Luz Fontanez of Women Rising will be here to address our students about the topic of Domestic Violence. For those who are unaware, October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and I, along with the rest of the administration felt that here at a school which works to foster and empower young women to prepare them for their adult lives, perhaps no other topic could be more important and timely than this one.

As such, I wanted for a moment today to share my own thoughts and reflections on this sad and tragic issue that haunts the lives of far too many women and even stretches its shadow over their children at times as well. Domestic violence is sadly hidden behind closed doors nearly all the time. It can be covered all too easily, by makeup, by long sleeves or jeans or strategically placed scarves or shawls. Dinner plans can be postponed due to “colds”. Sunglasses can be worn because of “allergies”. We’ve seen it depicted on television and on theater screens; a bruise explained by a fall down the stairs, a black eye shrugged away by a clumsy misstep. It’s a sad reality that remains hidden right in plain sight; and the women who suffer from this are as varied and as different socially, racially, economically, and religiously as there are colors in the rainbow.

There is not one stereotype of an “abused woman”. She is not always weak or unintelligent or desperate to be loved or suffering from low self esteem. She did not actively look to put herself in the situation, this is not something she wanted, not something she dreamed of when she thought of falling in love. She is not a willing partner in her relationship; in fact she is not a partner at all. Women, young, old, rich, poor, Catholic, Jewish, black, white, the list is endless…one never can tell which woman you pass on the street, who stands in front of you in a board room, in a classroom, in a restaurant, around your family’s dinner table…you just never know which one of them has been in this situation and has been brave enough, strong enough, and empowered enough to finally say, enough is enough, and find the strength to seek help and get out.

And how, I am sure our young ladies will ask today, does this happen? How do so many smart women, the statistic is 1 in 4, suffer from physical abuse at the hands of their partner during the course of their lifetime? Because the first time it happens, the person swears up and down it will never happen again. And if the woman loves her partner, she is inclined to believe him. And so the pattern of abuse begins; the abuse, the apology, the fear and forgiveness and before one knows it, this strong woman has become a victim; trapped in a situation she no longer knows how to free herself from. Asking for help is challenging; how can she explain to her family or friends that she has allowed this to happen to her.

Our speaker today will help our young ladies to understand ways in which to, of course, avoid ever being in this situation. But with a shocking and horrifying statistic like 1 in 4, she will also explain ways in which to come forward and seek help should it ever happen; she will explain how to Rise Up and remain empowered women even in the face of an unspeakable situation.  

I want to end today with a few more numbers…although my readers know that numbers are not my strong suit. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month…and these numbers are truly the most frightening things to come out of the month of October.

  • The number of American women murdered by current or ex male partners between 2016-2017 was over 1,600.
  • 85 percent of domestic abuse victims are women.
  • 3 women a day are murdered by a current or former male partner in the United States.
  • 38,028,000 is the number of women who have experienced physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetimes.
  • 4,744,000 is the number of women in the United States who experience physical violence by their physical partner every year.
  • 1,509 is the number of women murdered by men they knew in 2018.
  • 20 people are victims of intimate partner/ domestic violence every minute.
  • 10,000,000 – the number of children exposed to domestic violence in the United States each year.
  • 25%- the number of domestic violence incidents against women that are reported to the police annually.

The Gifts of Autumn…

Already almost the end of October? And yet, it is just within this past week that fall has truly been in the air. Crisp leaves falling onto sidewalks, cooling temperatures at night, a hint of frost on windowpanes and cars in the morning…autumn in all its glory has finally gifted itself to us and all too soon it will be swept away by the winds…both of winter and the holiday season. With only nine (yikes!) Fridays left until Christmas, all too soon the beauty of this time of year will be lost amid the hustle and bustle of the holiday lights.

So, on this October Monday, I invite each of you to pause for just a moment and admire all the gifts of fall. A blue sky peeking through your office window. A breeze rustling your hair as you hurry to school drop off or pick up. A cup of ( of course) Pumpkin Spice Latte from your favorite coffee shop. Potted pansies and mums on front porches, pumpkins perched on lattices and windowsills, the scent of cinnamon and spice in the air.  Trees: crimson, golden, apricot and tangerine ; their leaves falling and drifting into piles at your feet. Scarecrows peeking out of front lawns or gardens…all the beauty of the season is everywhere, if we all just take a moment to pause and look around.

Today, I encourage each of my readers to stop, pause and breathe in all the beauty that surrounds us during this autumn season. Remember, it would not be made possible without God and His presence in our lives. And I invite you to pray with me, to offer thanks for the gifs of Autumn and to truly be grateful for this most beautiful time of year.

God of all seasons, we thank you for Autumn.
We thank you
for the touch of coolness in the air that gives us a new burst of energy,
for the coloring of trees that shows the creativity of the Divine Artist,
for the falling leaves that reveal the strength of the branches,
for the hues of fields that bring peace to our souls,
for the smiles on pumpkins that bring joy to children,
for the fall harvest which that brings us gratitude for the bounty of our land,
for this change of seasons that reveals the circle of life.
God of all seasons, as you transform the earth, transform us by your Spirit.

Amen.

http://www.marquette.edu/faith/prayer-autumn.php

Let’s Revisit Salem…

Two years ago, the 7th blog I wrote as Head of School focused on a historical time I was reading about the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It’s archived on this website for those who missed it the first time around. And now, only 48 months later, I think it’s a topic I need to revisit; in this month of October where everything is Pumpkin Spice, Halloween and Hocus Pocus themed, we need to remember that this event in history was a serious one. While Salem, MA today might be the Halloween capital of the United States and while they sport witchy icons on all of their signs…the actual events that took place that year are grave, heart breaking, and not in any way fair, to any of the men and women persecuted and then executed for witchcraft.

Twenty people murdered; convicted on “spectral” evidence, with little to no opportunity to defend themselves. The manner in which the trials were conducted was appalling, even for the time period. If one was accused and pled guilty, the punishment was excommunication from the Church and yet your life was spared. However, if one maintained his or her innocence…and of course we know full well that not one of these men or women were guilty of witchcraft…then the punishment was death..by hanging or in one extremely disturbing case, by pressing to death under boards and stones. Death…the punishment for not admitting to a “crime” that one was not guilty of committing. Life, for lying in what served as a court in 1692…how could this have occurred in our nation’s history? And why, I have to wonder, does it never once get more than a paragraph in a history textbook and/or the text of The Crucible in a literature textbook. (When I taught American Lit, I ALWAYS taught Miller’s work, precisely because I felt it was a time in history my students needed to be more familiar with).

It happened more than once, too…did it not? Did we see a rise of this behavior in the McCarthy trials a little over fifty years ago? And today, 326 years later…what do our young men and women in America truly know about Salem, MA? In my heart, I feel, not as much as they should know. The men and women who faced death rather than admit to a crime they did not commit should be considered some of the very first martyrs of our nation…and in the years between then and now, we have had many.

For, in the world of 24 hour news channels, easy access to internet/email at all times, and social media, people are judged daily. And where are each of us and our children being judged? Well, of course on social media, on talk radio, on talk shows. All of these venues serve to “spin” a story for the public…long before anyone of us has had a chance to truly examine whatever the hot button issue is.

How can anyone maintain their innocence when our society is ready to judge them in an instant? How can any one of us not be guilty of “something” because somewhere, be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc, someone is “convicting” us of something based on our opinions, our beliefs, our personal life choices. Lately, it seems that, largely due to social media, our society has perhaps become more and more reflective of Salem in 1692. We seem to operate in a world where we assume everyone is guilty of something, or wrong about something, or not supporting this cause, that movement or the other issue …and in doing so, we tear each other apart, we scold and reprimand behind the guise of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, et, al and in doing so we are effectively destroying each others reputations.

Let’s stop allowing people to judge us on social media . Let’s teach our children not to judge people via social media. Let’s stop letting the internet replace common sense, intelligent thought, and weighty discussions. Let us together, teach our children to believe in what America is about…fair trials, evidence and support, and not essentially public “executions” of our very reputations on social media. Otherwise, are we any better than Salem, 1692?

At the End of the Day…

For those who may not know…I am an avid fan of The West Wing. I know it’s been off the air for years however I own the collector’s box set and of course, it’s right on my Netflix whenever I want to visit President Bartlett, Leo, Josh, Toby and all the rest of that cast I found so outstanding. My daughter is actually named after the First Lady on the show…a fact that I think she finds cute now but may find embarrassing as she gets older. I know the dialogue, I have my favorite episodes, and if I am having a tough day, I may just put it on for background noise as I take care of other things in the house. It’s my go to show- the writing, the acting, the storylines…for me it’s the perfect piece of television.

As such, every so often, one of the lines of dialogue resonates with me- different lines at different points and moments in my life. I heard one the other day that truly made me stop and think for a while. The more I thought about it, the more important of a message it seemed to be…and so, as is often the case, I ruminated, and jotted notes and brainstormed, until I formulated exactly what I wanted to say about this quote…

The only thing you ever have to do to make me happy is come home at the end of the day.

Not a political type of statement at all, from a show whose focus was mainly politics. And yet, it might be one of the most touching pieces of dialogue over the course of 7 seasons. The line, uttered by President Bartlett to his daughter Ellie, who feels as if she let him down, is delivered in the sweetest of ways, he and his daughter are sitting, watching a movie and he casually says it. Her eyes fill up, his eyes fill up and for a moment, he’s not the President (at least on TV) at all, but just a father thankful for his little girl.

How many of us, parents, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, even friends, take the time to express this type of simple emotion to those we love the most? Sadly, when I reflect on it, I do not think I do it often enough. I come home and it’s homework, dinner, dance, bath, story, song, bed. I talk, sure and I listen- I know I listen, but do I express that what really matters to me is that my daughter is home with me at the end of every day? Do I express that to others I care about- that in essence their presence in my life is all that truly matters and what makes me happy. Do you?

At Saint Dominic Academy we, as educators expect a great deal from our students. I know that you, as parents expect a great deal from your daughters as well. Those expectations are high, as they should be and each and every day, the young ladies rise up to meet and even exceed them. However, at the end of the day, whether our daughters, our sons, our loved ones are 7, 17, or even 70, what they really need to hear is that it is their presence in our lives, not their achievements that make us happy.

So, for this week, I encourage you…show the people in your life who make your eyes light up and your days joyful just how happy you are to see them at the end of each and every day. Put aside the grades, the paperwork, the bills, and anything else that needs to be done and welcome your loved ones home at the end of the day with open arms, free of the weight of the daily stressors of the world. Let’s show our children, our families that all we truly need to be happy is their presence in our lives.

After 20 Years…

Just after midnight…October 7, 1998.  The wind chill in Wyoming dropped into the twenties.  The sky was lit with the twinkling of stars, and most of us slept, dreaming peacefully.  Sadly, on that night twenty years ago, a brutal nightmare was just beginning for one poor soul…a nightmare that would touch the heart of our country a few days later.  Matthew Shepard, who would have been 42 years old this year, was robbed, pistol whipped and tortured, then tied to a fence and left to die in the freezing cold. He would not be discovered until 6:30pm the next evening, by a cyclist who mistook Matthew, now in a coma he would never wake from, for a scarecrow.  Most reports tell us that his face was unrecognizable, covered in blood except for where the tracks of his tears washed them away.

  A story so brutal, so heart wrenching, that tears come to my eyes as I type even those few details. For it is a crime I remember well and I can recall watching the coverage of the hospital vigil, the protestors, and his funeral and just asked myself and God over and over again “Why?”.  At 21 years old in 1998, I was not unaware of hate crimes, prejudice, or the horrific way some members of our country treated others. However, perhaps because of the age of the victim, perhaps because he had already suffered a brutal assault only 3 years earlier and picked himself up and went on, perhaps because of the sheer violence and unabashed brutality of the crime…right up to the way he was crucified on a picket fence and left to suffer…much like Jesus was left to suffer—this crime shook my soul.  And as the 20th anniversary of it fast approaches…my heart still aches and my eyes still fill with sadness when I think of it.

All this time has passed…but how much has changed?  We still have today in America, intolerance, hate crimes, violence…are we any better now than we were before that day?  If we, parents or educators, mention his name in a classroom or at the dinner table this week, will our children even recognize it?  How can we continue to work with the young women and men who will shape tomorrow to teach them that above all else, we are ALL God’s children, made in His image and likeness and that in God’s eyes, we are all special, all capable of making the world a better place, and of changing the tide of intolerance to tolerance with a smile, an outstretched hand, or a caring embrace.

Matthew Shepard had none of those things twenty years ago…however he was not alone. God was with him, just as He is always with all of us.  Together, we must work to see each other as God sees us, and see the goodness of God in all. That is how we can best commemorate the senseless tragedy that took place on a cold October night 20 years ago.

Prayers for peace, love and tolerance always.