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Venice Williams is the director of Alice’s Garden and a lay minister, teacher, healer and facilitator. She shares painful memories of her own childhood and her concern for the “thousands of children caught at home, with no release date in sight, within the frightening grip of domestic violence.”
It was never a matter of if it would happen, but when it would occur.
I am not sure how many other children felt the same way, but growing up, I cringed at the thought of days off from school. School was my sanctuary. Even though it was not a complete safe space (there were two girls who loved to bully me), being in school meant no yelling and hollering. No feeling useless as I heard the volumes of my parents’ voices rise, until they reached a pitch that caused me to shake, as tears fell from my eyes, knowing what would follow.
Being in a classroom, away from home, meant not hearing the sounds of slaps and punches coming from the other side of the wall or the floor below. Or choking, and the sound of my mother gasping for air. School kept me from jumping at the knocking of furniture being turned over or the sound of glass shattering. Sitting at my desk, surrounded by my classmates, was a kept promise that I would not hear screams for help which were, more often than not, only answered by me.
School was a place where I thrived without fear. While at school, I never wished I wasn’t born.
During this space of pandemic that we find ourselves in, it is not my own health, or my family’s, that concerns me most. What shreds my heart to pieces, and stirs up familiar fear, nausea and hopelessness in me during these days, is knowing there are thousands of children caught at home, with no release date in sight, within the frightening grip of domestic violence.
As I am in my Milwaukee kitchen cooking, dancing, laughing, brewing up herbal goodness, watching movies with our grandson, a sudden sense of deep sorrow often engulfs me. I think of all the children living in the neighborhoods of this city who are holding their breath in fear. Or hiding and crying. Or screaming. Or ducking.
My Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder flares up, and I see her. I see 8-year-old Venice, who wants nothing more than for school to open again. Sometimes, as I peel an onion, or tighten a lid on a jar, I am able to fight back the tears. Most of the time, I am not, abruptly leaving the kitchen, pretending to have to go to the bathroom, or make my way down the steps to switch over a load of laundry. No wonder, the clothes are all clean and folded.
This feeling is not new for me. I experience it every Christmas break, or spring break, and most definitely thinking of children during summer breaks. Still, those times away from school have an end date. During my childhood, I would count down the days until it was time to go back to school, not mark off the days until school was out.
However, in these days of learning to live within the newness of an untamed virus, my fear and compassion for children such as me, it feels like those emotions are on steroids. This time away from school may last until September. If you are in a household of violent behavior, even one more day is a day too many. There have been moments, over the past six days, where the dread inside of me has caused me to simply be unable to speak. Venice Williams, the woman of impactful and healing words, rendered silent by a crippling fear of what our neighborhood children must be enduring.
I grew up to become a “Wounded Healer” Henri J. M. Nouwen spoke of in the book of the same title. As I entered ministry in this city, almost 31 years ago, I carried the book with me, every day, for 10 or more years, reading from its passages, a guide for my living and my work:
Who can save a child from a burning house without taking the risk of being hurt by the flames? Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? In short: “Who can take away suffering without entering it?”
During this pandemic, I crave to be “hurt by the flames.” I want to be burnt. I want to knock on every door in this city and rescue fear-filled, trembling children. I do. I really do.
I want to seek them out, with the same energy I wanted someone to find me, all those years ago. “Where is everybody,” I would think, “Why doesn’t someone come and take us away, or just say something?”
The toll we will pay for the impact of the coronavirus is way more than physical death. Financial? Not even the worst of it.
The emotional, spiritual, physical scars of domestic violence are so far-reaching, well into adulthood. Wounds which, sometimes, never heal. I know. It is one thing to be trapped in the cycle of violence under “normal circumstances.” Right now, all of the unexpectedness of how our lives have been turned upside down make me cry every day for our children. I want to be sanctuary for all of them. I am willing to burn for them. I already do.
You know some of the kids I speak of. They are your sister’s children. Maybe, your grandchildren. They are the kids in the apartment next door. The little boy or girl across the street. They are your students. They are your own babies.
Speak to them some of the things I wanted to hear from the adults around me:
I know this is hard. You should not have to live like this.
Y/our family is broken. I want to help find a way to fix it.
I know you hurt all over. What can I do for you?
I see you. I see you. I want to help you.
Say something. The very least we can do is say something.
In case you missed it: Places in Milwaukee where you can find help for domestic violence