At first I didn't understand why her face came to mind. It is a distinctive face and I knew immediately who it was. The moment and the memory combined to grip me. Only later I realized that we had just driven the route that I drove the day she and I met. She was a tiny woman with a huge file. Her body was riddled with disease, she would not live long. Her desire, not for life but for a peaceful death, was plainly spoken.
Much of her life had been lived on the streets. Victimized as a child, routinely raped as a teen, destroyed as an adult - she had fallen, hard, through the cracks. Finally discovered, she moved from the street to care. She had never had a room of her own, a home of her own, a place to simply lay her head and sleep. She was grateful. Tears formed in her eyes as she kept saying 'thank you' 'thank you' 'thank you' to all who would listen.
In my meeting with her, I asked her what she wanted from us. 'Nothing,' she said quickly, not wanting to presume to ask for anything more, but then a pause, 'well, maybe ...' I leaned forward, it was one of those moments of immense trust, she said simply, 'can you keep me safe?' Her hand reached out and took mine, she looked me in the eyes and wanted a promise.
I know that human services is not always safe, not always a place of sanctuary. I know that the statistics predict much less than safety. I looked to the staff of the agency, frontline and management, I saw determination in their eyes, they both nodded. I said, 'Yes.'
That promise has stayed with me ever since. I think of it often in my work. As we in Vita constantly struggle to improve our 'roadmap to safety' as we continue in our desire to grab the system by the lapels and demand change, I think of her. I think of her simple, simple request, 'Can you keep me safe?' It's the least we can do, it's the least we ought to do, it's the most we can ever give.
Here, in the United States, today is Memorial Day. A day to remember those who fought wars against tyranny and injustice. I choose, instead, to remember her. A woman who survived on the margins, a woman who's body was broken on the long drop from societies embrace. She fought her war in her way, she fought against those who would take her body and soul. She saved one while losing the other.
I can't imagine the courage it takes to surface from a life of pain, hurt and sorrow and ask humbly for sanctuary, safety, solace. I can't imagine what it would have cost us all should she have been hurt again, here at home with us.
Today I remember one who endured.
Today I remember a promise made.
Today I remember why ...