Helping. Nonetheless.

“You are neither obligated to complete the work nor free to keep from trying.”

– Rabbi Tarfon (70-135 CE)


***

“I thought a secret location would be different,” says Emmett, through a piece of cheese pizza a couple miles from our house.

Annie, mouth not full, shifts her gaze for validation between Jane and I and continues—“Right?! I thought we’d be in like a shack in the middle of a field and then like it’d be like shiny and fancy like inside.”

We are at lunch after spending the morning volunteering.

Emmett swallows and picks back up, “If it looked different from other places, it wouldn’t make sense. ‘Cause then people would notice there’s something different. So it has to look just like a regular building.”

Over my grape soda, I’m proud.

 

***

 

On this particular fall morning in 2019, we took the kids, then ages 10 and almost 13, to volunteer at Call to Safety, formerly The Portland’s Women’s Crisis Line.

We rolled out the prep, slowly. A week ago, we began telling them we were going to volunteer. A few days ago, some details were added about “the organization that helps women.” This morning, we drove to the zero-signage headquarters.

Domestic violence needs to be spoken about. Addressed. And ended.

 

***

 

We arrive, sign waivers, and get to different tasks.

Jane volunteers to do a deep scrub of the three bathrooms.

Emmett and I disassemble, move, and reassemble desks between the first and second-floor offices. I marvel at his dexterity and problem-solving skills. I also marvel at the natural strength of his young pre-pubescent frame.

 

Tracking with an inherited Germanic joy for organization, Annie inventories components of physical evidence recovery kits. No one calls them rape kits in her presence.

 

 

 

***

“I really appreciate what you are doing,” the volunteer coordinator says as she finds me on the floor of the foyer next to an overturned office chair. I’m using a putty knife, box cutter, and needle-nose pliers to remove thick wads of detritus from the no-longer-spinning wheels.

“Seriously, Deanna,” I respond. “This is nothing. You are the ones doing the hard work.”

She responds with the perfect line: “Your help makes it easier for us to do our jobs. So I thank you.”

***

Before COVID, Jane and I regularly attended talks about equity and race at the kids’ school. We have worked—and continue to work—phone banks for politicians we support. We attend protests and have even organized one.

We have asked others to join us.
But we get few takers.

Once we got the response, “I just want my child to have a happy childhood.”

I get not wanting to deal with the fact that there is a greater than one in five chance that one of our daughters will be sexually assaulted. I don’t like that 15 is the average age of rape victims. Or that the assailants’ age average is 27. I don’t want to deal with any of this.

I don’t want to work to combat misogamy, racism, sexism, and abuse.

I don’t want to have to repair the world. Knowing that I’ll never succeed.

But neither can I do nothing about it.

Alice Walker: “Activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet.”

Make a commitment today towards fixing this world.