By: Beatriz Craven, Guest Blogger
Image courtesy Jeff From and Emma Redden
“The real question is: what are you going to do about it?”
I sat quietly in my chair at the conference, but the cheering in my mind was of epic proportion. I was listening in on a lecture regarding social justice and feeling incredibly at home. The question was a simple one, and yet it resonated with me so much that it shook me to my core. I find myself continuously fascinated by our ability as people to create such beauty and destruction. I have always wanted to be the person who creates beauty in the face of the ugliness of humanity. There is so much that goes on in our world that feels so wrong. So again, the question is: What are we going to do about it? Life inherently grants us the amazing opportunity to do something meaningful and inspired with our lives. I wonder about what kind of change I can possibly bring about and become easily overwhelmed by the thought of making an impact on a world so much bigger than me. As a single person, maybe I won’t cure hunger or cancer, but maybe, just maybe, I can leave the world a touch better than I entered it. I can’t imagine a better goal.
I was recently blown away by a prime example of living the meaning-filled life. It was a summer project carried out by 20-year-old Vassar College students, Jeffrey From and Emma Redden. With the generous support of the Davis Foundation, they were given a grant to fund a grass roots peace project they had dreamed up, Peace Bound: Portraits for Non-Violence. They decided to spend their summer traveling across 25 states to spread the word about the prevalence of domestic violence and bring awareness to this very serious issue. They would be educating bypassers about local resources, taking their photos, and collecting their statements of solidarity. The conversation between strangers would grow and become personal with the simple question, “Why is it important to support victims of domestic violence?” What an amazing summer adventure, I thought. What a cool experience to pack up the car and leave, picking up awesome memories and leaving a trail of positive change behind them. I asked Jeff why he decided to take this on. It felt only natural to him. “My aunt worked preventing child abuse and my grandparents are ministers of the United Church of Christ. Spreading peace is kind of a thing.” I adored the coolness with which he said this, like I was asking him why he brushed his teeth. It’s obvious. You just do something meaningful while you’re alive.
They traveled across Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, California, and Idaho to name a few, and yet they would keep finding themselves in a state of enlightenment. They were well aware of the prevalence of domestic violence. After all, that was exactly the word they were carrying out. However, in their interactions with bypassers on the street they were continuously taken aback by meeting so many survivors in the flesh. Emma worked at a domestic violence shelter back in Poughkeepsie, and still, she found it unnerving: “People sometimes characterize victims as weak. You hear the numbers; I know the statistics of the pervasiveness of the issue, but then walking into a flea market and hearing from survivors was really powerful. It's different to have a face to it outside of the center. On another day we met a waitress in Louisiana who shared her own personal story of how domestic violence affected her. It gets personal. We would hear stories and it could be them or parents or a loved one. People are really amazing.”
It was clear that their experience brought about change in many ways. I find myself inspired and wondering about how I can leave a trail of positivity in my own life. Like Jeff and Emma, maybe it’s in bringing voice to the injured. Maybe it’s in simple and profound kindness throughout my day. Maybe it’s in a bit of both.
What are you going to leave the world with?
Jeffrey and Emma will be compiling their photographs, statements of solidarity, and interviews into a book. You can find more about their peace mission here: https://peacebound.wordpress.com/
About Beatriz: Beatriz Craven is desperately close to fulfilling her dream of becoming a psychologist with the completion of her PhD. She is an avid life enthusiast, loving wife, and movie fanatic.