Have you called?
Alternate title: Why visiting teaching with a companion is important.
Near the end of Les Miserables, after Inspector Javert allows Jean Valjean to go, and before he kills himself, Javert leaves instructions for the precinct. One of his points was that inspectors and officers should always work in pairs. This is so that when one has a moment of weakness (as Javert felt he just did) there will be another person there to do the right thing.
When I first read that I thought immediately of missionaries, and how they are never, ever supposed to be alone. Since then I’ve noticed that almost all church work outside of the church building is done in groups of two or more. When I’ve been a visiting teacher the instructions to work with our partners has often been something that I felt was cramping my style. It would be so much easier to arrange visits between just two people, rather than three.
A few weeks ago when my companion called to cancel our appointments due to illness, I offered to swing by our teachee’s houses on my own. I had happened to make cookies that day and decided to bring a few to each sister. My five year old tagged along and was having a great time.
At the last house, after driving around for half an hour cursing myself for not looking up her address before I left, we found the Sister enjoying an evening at home, and chatted briefly at the door. As we left her condo and walked through the rest of the buildings towards where I parked the car I became aware of a ‘ruckus.’ Between my kid’s chatter I picked out a baby crying- no big deal. Babies cry. It happens.
As we got closer to the source of the ruckus I heard shouting- not necessarily something bad. I once had a neighbor that shouted quite loudly at football games on the TV. When we reached the car I turned and could see the house it was coming from. My kid got in the car and, relieved of his chatter, I stopped to listen.
It was a fight- quite plainly. A man and a woman both shouting very loudly. The crying was coming from a kid, too young to do anything but wail, yet old enough to stand at the low window where I could see it’s face through the screen. There was no obvious indication that the fight was physical, or one-sided. But I knew that doesn’t really mean much.
My mind raced trying to decide what I could do. What I should do. Do I call 911? Does this count as an emergency? I haven’t actually heard anything conclusive. Anyways could I even tell them where I am? What street am I on? Is there another number to call? Does calling the operator even work anymore? Do I knock on the door? That’s dangerous-Who would know if something happened? And what about my kid? Leave him in the car? Nope. Can’t knock.
So calling 911? Would that actually help? If it is domestic violence would a visit from the police lead to worse violence later? Is that my call to make? My mind flipped past everything I’d read about why many minorities are reluctant to call the police. I thought of SB 1070. How could I tell their ethnicity or race? Should it make a difference in what I do?
Maybe I could go back to the house we just visited, ask for her help. Maybe I could call my husband and have him look up the police non-emergency line. As I hemmed and hawed the fight got quiet. My kid started whining. I went home.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t do the right thing- even though I still don’t know what I should have done. By myself I was not equipped to do the right thing, or even know what it was. I suspect that if I had been in the company of another adult we could have worked together to do the right thing.
Either way, I now have the city police, and police domestic violence action team as contacts in my cell phone. So the next time I’m not sure what the right thing to do is, I can call someone who should know.