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.


Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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13 Responses

  1. Being with a partner wouldn’t necessarily have helped. She may have been as clueless as you were or worse still, impulsive enough to take rash action. At least you’re prepared for the next time. And you’ve reminded me that I should put the non-emergency police phone number on my cell phone.

  2. Stella says:

    Interesting post, Starfoxy. I’ve been in situations…like my mission, where I was ALWAYS with someone. However, the rest of my life I have been pretty much alone. I was alone when I lived in NYC and saw a shooting, I was alone when I was in Brazil standing next to a car bomb that went off, I am alone each and every day of my life.

    If Javert had not been alone, then the other officer was sure to not let Jean Val Jean go. I don’t know if I like that. I think two people make it easier to keep the so called “rules” but when you are alone you realize just what you are made of. Maybe I’m glad that Javert let go of his revenge in the end. But, that did lead to taking his own life…so it was drastic.

    I guess I like being alone. I like to see who I am and what I do in each situation.

    However, I have also been in relationships, and I have to admit that it was nice having someone else to talk to and to help make the big decisions with, but even then, my partner usually said to me, “Ultimately, you have to make this decision on your own.” And he’s right.

    (again, this is a wider observation and not really addressing what you faced yesterday 🙂

    • Starfoxy says:

      If Javert had not been alone, then the other officer was sure to not let Jean Val Jean go. I don’t know if I like that.
      This is something that I considered too. I think you are right that being with others makes us more inclined to follow the rules- and when the rules are beneficial then that can be a good thing. But rules aren’t always beneficial.

  3. Stephanie2 says:

    Interesting post, Starfoxy. I hadn’t thought of the safety aspect of going in pairs. I think this can also extend to marriage.

    • TopHat says:

      This is one reason our ward has been doing the prophetically-condemned visiting teaching groups- so that when it’s late in the evening (or even just 5 o’clock and dark in the winter), they aren’t meeting anyone alone, but are in a group. For our area, I think it’s a good idea. Our ward is going to modify the group thing after the recent leadership meeting, but I don’t think it’s going to be the standard 2 VTers to a person thing because it’s not really a good way to be doing it in our ward.

  4. Corktree says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of two by two. I see pros and cons both ways and would much prefer to be assigned to women I can serve on my own, so I guess it’s just a matter of whether you feel it is divinely mandated that way or not.

    • Caroline says:

      Starfoxy, I’d have no idea what to do in that situation either. Though I must say that I think you might have done the right thing in the end. You waited to make sure the fight didn’t escalate, and then when it was over you left. Great point about having emergency numbers in your phone. I should get on that.

  5. Jesse says:

    I’m pretty sure I didn’t do the right thing- even though I still don’t know what I should have done.

    This sentence captures one of the major issues I’m grappling with right now…not that I think I didn’t do the right thing, but that I keep finding myself in situations where I don’t know what the right thing is. But I think it assumes there is a right thing that could have been done.

    With the encouragement of my mother-in-law and my father, I coming to accept that sometimes there is not one right decision. There is just your assessment of the situation, your assets and your liabilities; and whatever you decide to do.

    My mother-in-law put it this way: “Jesse,” she said, “You and my son keep worrying about making the right decision for your family. Sometimes, there is no right decision. There are just decisions. You make one and you keep going.”

    My dad tells the story of his first boss. One day, my dad encountered a vexing problem. He wasn’t sure what to do, so he talked to his boss. “Ted,” his boss said, “just do something.”

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, even if your companion had been there, you might not have done anything differently. All you would have had was someone to reassure you that you had done the right thing (which is not a bad thing). Moral support can be valuable.

    That is why I like VT-ing in pairs–and the fact that some days I just don’t feel very chatty.

  6. spunky says:

    Wow, Starfoxy, what a scary situation, especially being with your child. But I think, like most others here, there are two issues you are addressing: 1. what to do when hearing an argument and 2. what the real benefit is in having a companionship for visiting teaching.

    1. The truth is, you would have been walking into a dangerous situation because you didn’t know the situation. But… there is something to be considered: In a couples psychology thing I went to years ago, it was addressed that some couples bond when arguing, not to mention cultural differences wherein arguing is an acceptable form of communication. In your situation, you did admirably well, but for the questioning yourself afterwards. Your primary concern in ANY situation should be your child, and you made sure your child was safe. So be assured that you did the right thing. I have been in situations similar to your’s—and what I did—I always made sure I was safe – i.e. got into my car and had the motor running, then called out “Hey, do the people in apartment A need me to call the police? I will.” In my experience, if BOTH of the people turn on me (which has happened)- I figure that it is they way that couple bonds, and get out quick. If one or the other asks for the police or otherwise, I do as I said I would- I call the police, but only after driving away far enough that I am safe.

    In your situation, it might have been wisest to secure your safety in getting to your car or back to the home you had just visited, and phone or ask the sister you visited if the couple normally argue like that. As she lives there, she would be more useful and have better information than your companion. As well, that sister has to live in that block of condos—so you sticking your nose in- albeit to stop the arguing- could have made life more difficult for the sister you visited, especially if they associated you together and held her responsible.

    2. I personally think a companionship for VTing is more annoying than anything. I see the safety in a companionship, but… I have always been the “strong” partner (in the inevitable strong and not strong companionships), and quite frankly, I am usually paired with someone who is moderately active- and because I make an effort to go every month (because I figure if I try every month, an actual visit is accomplished once a quarter), “we” are assigned to inactive or needy sisters. That makes my companion as much of a visitee as a visitor. At the moment, I feel very burdened with this weight (we have 3 sisters to teach, which for me, feels like 4 because of the companion situation). I live an hour’s drive from everyone, so wrangling all 4 of them from a distance I think is unreasonable, so I am seriously considering asking to be taken off the list as a visitee and a visitor because it is too much. So- I supposed if the companionship and VT list was balanced, it would be a good thing… but in my experience from my last 3 companionships in the last 10 years, and your situation, the whole program could and should be better organized and have training that addresses issues mentioned in your original post and the comments.

    • spunky says:

      P.S. I do think that proper companionships can protect against gossip. We all know gossip happens at church, and in my ward 7 years ago, women didn’t want to be VT because the root of gossip seemed to be in Visiting Teaching. In sticking to just the message, a couple of women finally let me in the door.

  7. rachel says:

    i’m in a small branch of about 20 people. we don’t have vt companions and i love it!!! after years of living in wards and going thru the scheduling nightmare of three people, i’m so happy that i don’t have to deal w/ that anymore. plus i often feel like the conversations are more ‘real’ with just two people. often a third person can be left out as two people connect on a deeper level. regardless of how great the vt visit is….for me, not having a companion is just easier logistically b/c our branch boundaries are massive!

    starfoxy-i don’t think your experience illustrates the need for a companion because, if i understand correctly, you wanted a companion for what happened before (getting lost) and after (the argument) vt not during. there was no mention of how the companion would have actually improved the vt visit itself.

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