Making a Difference to Just One

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A while back a friend talked to me about her desire to make a difference in the lives of others by getting her “story” out there. That story consists of almost being murdered by her ex-husband. No one–as in not one–not even the doctors, expected her to survive. But survive she did! She’s truly a miracle. In fact she didn’t only survive, she’s by far one of the most positive, smiling, happy, and grateful people I know. Those who know her are blessed indeed.

During this talk we had, she was somewhat discouraged. She wanted to help so many and felt like she was reaching no one. Writing a book was at the top of her list, but anyone who is an author knows writing a book and getting it out there takes a long time. Because of her generous heart and caring spirit, she wanted to help people now. What she didn’t realize, and what I pointed out to her, is that she was helping people–every single day, and that each one she touches, is so important. She’s a first responder victim’s advocate, offering on-the-scene support to victims of crime. She’s won awards for all that she’s accomplished and does because of what she’s been through, using her experience for good. She speaks to groups of people, letting them know that nothing is too big to be overcome. She motivates, inspires, and brings joy.

Every. Single. Day.

Each of us that had a role in the prosecution of her case has been forever touched by her.

Fast forward nine months:

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I got a message from her the other day that said “Oh my God, you’re Alexandra Benn!” She proceeded to tell me that her therapist lent her two books, one of which was my book that I wrote under a pseudonym, Finding Peace Through Gratitude: The Secret to Healing from Trauma and Finding Joy in Every MomentShe went on to tell me what a difference the book has made in her life and that she didn’t know it was me until she saw my picture on the back. I’d even seen a photo she posted on social media of her chair at the pool with a bottle of water and a copy of the book.

Imagine my joy. I was moved to tears. The advice I’d given her months before came back full circle. And her voicing the difference my book made to her, made a difference to me.

Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows I participate in Camp NaNoWriMo every April and July. This particular July, however, I’ve been preoccupied with life–vacation to Minnesota visiting family, chaos relating to my husband’s job, and surgery last week on my heart. Progress on my Camp NaNo project just wasn’t happening. But knowing my words made such an impact on this woman, one person, was all it took to get me back to it with gusto. Will I make my Camp NaNo goal? I don’t know. But I do know that knowing my words make a difference, that they bring me such joy to write–well, my friends, that’s all that matters. That I made a difference to one. Because that one is a woman who is beyond amazing.

And now I’m back off to Camp to keep on keepin’ on, despite reaching my goal or not. Whatever I write is that much more that I didn’t have at the end of June.

I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.
-Mother Teresa

If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
-Mother Teresa

Change Begins with One

 

 

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April is an exceptionally busy month in the world of criminal law. Not only does it hold National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, but it’s also Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month. So for those of us who work in the criminal law arena, by the end of April, we’re all pretty much running on fumes. There’s not another month quite so exhausting, nor quite so satisfying and fulfilling. In fact, during that month, as difficult as it is, I’m pretty darn proud to be doing the work that I do.

The criminal justice system is called the criminal justice system for a reason–it’s justice for the criminal. When society thinks of the victim, it’s frequently not in a good way. Victim blaming and shaming has gotten out of control. When we’re silently thinking that the victim should have done something differently, was wearing the wrong thing, shouldn’t have been drinking–well, you get the picture–it’s blaming the victim.

The following two examples, while you may think to be a little silly, demonstrate how victim blaming happens:

Example #1: You’re house is burglarized and destroyed, your personal items trashed. Your door was unlocked and you have a nice welcome mat on your front porch. The police are called out to your house, but they respond with, “But your door was unlocked and you had a welcome mat outside your door. You invited this.”

Example #2: You’re in a diner having coffee with a friend and engaged in good conversation. The waitress asks if you would like more coffee. You tell her, yes, you would like more. You proceed to engage in conversation with her while she pours the coffee until it’s overflowing, dumping scalding hot coffee all over your lap. You jump up and complain, but the manager says, “I’m sorry, but you weren’t clear enough on when you wanted her to stop.”

Blaming the victim for what s/he was wearing, doing, saying, or NOT wearing, doing,  saying, takes the fault away from the perpetrator and places the blame on the victim.

Example #2 is not so far-fetched. Say a man or woman (yes, men can be sexually assaulted, too) gets carried away in the heat of the moment and their potentially willing partner changed his/her mind “mid-stream” and says, “NO, STOP”, whether verbally or non-verbally. Aggressors on many occasions have said it was too late–they couldn’t stop. Hmmm…If the pair are teenagers and the victim’s parents walk through the door, I bet the perpetrator would be able to stop in a hurry! Or if the victim’s six-foot-seven football star husband comes home unexpected, I bet activity would stop immediately and one of the two would make a beeline out the nearest window!

Denim Day (which is today) is a campaign that began after an Italian Supreme Court ruling overturned a rape conviction when the justices decided that since the victim’s jeans were tight she had to have helped the rapist remove them, implying consent. The next day Italian Parliament women went to work wearing jeans in support of the victim. Our office gives us the option to wear jeans every year on Denim Day. You can bet I have–and will continue to–wear mine loud and proud.

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From one who has been a victim of sexual assault and who works with victims of crime, I believe we can change the way society sees the big picture and to put the responsibility on the perpetrator instead of the blame on the victim. I truly believe we can! And as victims survivors of crime, we can rise above what has happened. Tragedy doesn’t have to beat us down or define us, but instead we can use it to shape and change the world in which we live. As a society, let’s change how we view crime and stop victim blaming. Change begins with just one. Won’t you be that one?

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. –Edward Everett Hale

And now I’m back off to Camp for the final burst of energy, finishing off Camp NaNo strong. See you on the other side.

Off to Camp

 

Women’s History Month

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Oh boy! I almost missed Women’s History Month. But it’s not too late. Technically, it doesn’t end until midnight tonight, March 31st.

There are so many women who have made enormous steps forward in making women matter in society. That being said, each of us matters.

Every. Single. One.

But there are women I’d like to mention who have blazed trails in my life. There are by far too many to name so here are a few that made a difference to me:

Mary, Mother of Jesus – The perfect woman to have as a role model. Obedient, hard working, brave, and endured the most horrendous heartbreak with such grace and dignity.

Jane Austen – A literary genius. She has six major novels – Pride and Prejudice; Sense and Sensibility; Persuasion; Mansfield Park; Northanger Abbey, and Emma, are classics. Female writers weren’t encouraged during the time Jane Austen wrote. Her dedication helped pave the way for future women writers. With Jane Austen listed as one of the women who made a difference to me, it’s not wonder that the movie The Jane Austen Book Club is one of my very favorites.

Malala Yousafzai – Malala battled for girls’ rights after the Taliban attempted to assassinate her for trying to get education for herself and other girls. She was just 15 years old at the time. She’s published a books, among them, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban and continues to advocate for equal rights. I don’t know about you, but at 15 years of age, I was still too worried about me to stand up for anything or anyone! What an impressive young lady!

Mother Teresa – She was an Albanian nun who devoted her life to serving the poor and dying. She personally cared for thousands of sick and dying people in Calcutta and was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1979. Mother Teresa was all about love and being the hands and feet of Jesus on earth.

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Kathryn Stockett – An American novelist who’s journey continues to give me hope in my own writing. Her debut novel, The Help, was rejected by 60 literary agents before one finally accepted! It’s a phenomenal book and I would highly recommend it. Her tenacity is beyond admirable.

Barbara Bush – Wife of George H.W. Bush and First Lady from 1989 to 1993. She involved herself with literacy issues and worked with several different literacy organizations. After researching about the factors that contributed to illiteracy, she believed homelessness may have been connected and she strove to combat both. I always admired her for the roles she played as advocate, mother, and wife.

My Mother, Bev Cielinski – This photo I took one evening, unbeknownst to her, as I walked past her bedroom door, says it all. She raised me with the values of faith and family, and taught me the value of hard, honest work. She taught me that when life was too hard to stand, to fall on my knees.

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Here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them. Unknown