Undone on Highway 101

On the way to a friend’s birthday party recently, I was on highway 101 in Sonoma County, stuck in slow-moving traffic.  Traveling at a snail’s pace allowed time to check out the other drivers: a guy eating a burrito, families talking, a cute dog catching a breeze... then, something startling. In a nearby car, the driver’s head was lolling up, down and around, and his driving, though slow, made it clear he was not safe behind the wheel. Drunk? On drugs? In need of medical help? We weren’t sure.

My instinct was just to steer clear. My wife Kristin’s was to call the police. Our friend Jennifer, sitting in the back seat, quickly looked up the number for the highway patrol, but got a message that their office was closed. With the driver weaving nearer, she decided to call 911. While this was happening, I ran through all of the reasons why we shouldn’t get involved:

We’ve got somewhere to go; I don’t want to be late!

911? That’s just for emergencies. This isn’t a REAL emergency.

What difference could we really make?

This could get messy... or even dangerous.

The experience had an unexpected impact on me. As I sat there listening to Jennifer reciting the license plate number to the emergency dispatcher, I thought: What about the domestic violence survivor who finally calls 911, but can’t get through? Or the witness, like me, who chooses to stand by? Or the good Samaritan who wants to help, but isn’t sure how, or gives up because it’s too hard?

Domestic violence occurs often and everywhere. With 1 in 4 women experiencing domestic violence in her lifetime, chances are you know someone who is, has, or will experience relationship abuse. Maybe you’ve overheard your neighbors yelling and thought “It’s not my place to intervene” or “What they do in their relationship isn’t my business.”

In these instances, where it might be is easy-enough to stand by, our instinct to help cannot be undone – especially by the excuse that it’s a “private issue.” Domestic violence is a public issue. And it affects all of us. Its consequences spread far and wide throughout our society. It stymies the development of children, leads to higher rates of chronic illness, is a cost burden on our legal and public safety systems, and spurs a cycle of violence that will continue if the issue stays behind closed doors. Remaining silent is a disservice to us all. Everyone has a responsibility to speak up and speak out.

I’m not sure if our efforts on the road that day made a difference. What I do know is that if I ever have another chance to help, I hope I’ll remember the wise words of educator Horace Mann who said: “Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.” Next time, I won’t be undone.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY); http://www.thehotline.org/

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