Last week at the park, something happened.
I was sitting outside on the grass with a few friends and a couple of their daughters (the rest of our kids were inside the community center at Chess Club) when we noticed a young woman pulling things out of the trunk of her car and throwing them on the ground.
"Oooh," said one of my friends. "Someone just got dumped."
My back was to the parking lot but I turned around for a quick peek. Sure enough. There must have been six pairs of sneakers. A whole pile of clothes. Probably a toothbrush. It looked exactly like that scene in all the movies. Get out of my life and take your stupid stuff with you!
I kept my back to the car and waited for the play-by-play thinking, "Dang. He must have really messed up if she's gonna leave his stuff at the park..."
Suddenly a guy came from the basketball court and started walking toward the car.
"Do you think that's the guy?"
"It looks like..."
One of my friends had already stood up. I sat, back to the parking lot, watching everyone watch what was about to unfold. I didn't take my eyes off my friend's daughter (she's 13). Her eyes were as big as saucers, unblinking, narrating everything she saw.
"The girl is getting in her car. I think he's - he's opening the door! What is she- He just hit her!"
At that I turned around and saw, from inside the car, fists flying. Before I could even register what was happening, two of my friends had walked up to the car to help the girl. One was on the phone with 911 giving physical descriptions of the guy and the car and the license plate number. Another friend had also called the police and was now directing them to the park.
My first (and only) reaction? Putting my arms around my friend's daughter and holding her as she cried.
"It's awful," I said, rocking her softly. "So awful..." It was the first time either of us had seen something like this. Shocking is an understatement.
When she settled down and we took a deep breath and looked around, the car and the couple were gone (apparently the girl had driven away with the guy). Moments later, the police arrived. As everyone continued taking care of business, filling out police reports, checking in on Chess Club, telling the director of the community center what had happened, confronting the guy who was picking his friend's stuff up in the parking lot, I hung out with the kids and we tried to make sense of what had just happened.
"Why would she go with him? Do you think this has happened before?"
"I don't know. Maybe?"
"It will probably just keep happening..."
"Well," I said. "Maybe today was different. I think if I was that girl and I looked up and saw two strong women I didn't even know holding out their hands to help me, and several other people concerned about me and wanting to help, it might make me think a little differently about myself. Maybe she didn't know she deserved better before. Maybe no one ever made her feel like she did. But this? This would have changed that for me. Like if someone who didn't even know me could care about me that much, maybe I could too."
"I hope so..."
A couple days later, I was in the waiting room at my doctor's office (strep throat...) and read an article in Native Magazine that bolstered my hope. It was about the amazing work Thistle Farms is doing to turn life around for women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction.
The takeaway for me was the same one I had in the park just days before. If no one has ever shown you how precious and valuable you are, how would you know? And if that's all it takes? Wow. That's pretty incredible.
Because it's something ALL of us can do.
Although, that's not to say it's easy. As the one who chooses "freeze" every time a fight or flight situation occurs, I'm the first to say reaching out a hand is much easier said than done. But love wins in different ways, right? Maybe I'm just more cut out for the hugging and trying to make sense of things. Maybe that's something too.
I hope so.