Today marks the beginning of National Crime Victims' Rights Week, a week when we are asked to remember and honor innocent victims of crime and those who serve them in so many different capacities throughout our communities, states, and country.
Each one of us here today has most likely been touched in one way or another by crime. Some of us have had our own personal experiences; others of us know loved ones, friends, or neighbors who have suffered painful and sometimes tragic losses through no fault of their own. Every time we turn on the television set or pick up a newspaper, we are reminded of the destruction that human beings can wreak upon each other as we are confronted with news stories and statistics about child abuse, homicide, family violence, abuse of the elderly, financial crimes, drunk driving crashes, rape, and victimization of individuals with disabilities. And it often seems that the most vulnerable members of our communitieschildren, elderly individuals, people with mental and physical disabilitiesare the ones that we are least able to protect.
The tragedies that unfold in peoples' lives as a result of crime victimization are excruciatingly painful, and it is very human to want to seek vengeance when a wrong has been committed. When we hear of such atrocities, or even worse, when we experience them ourselves within our own families, our own neighborhoods, our own communities and churches, we are filled with a sense of outrage and disbelief. We feel we must do something to right such a wrong, to somehow return the traumatized victims and their families to what life was like before this terrible incident occurred.
Psalm 126 reminds us that we are not alone in the suffering that is inflicted by the maltreatment and abuse of others. This can be difficult for victims of crime to remember as they confront the grim and forever altered aftermath of their lives after victimization. There is so much to despair and grieve in the broken relationships and connections that are torn asunder by crime. There are some relationships that cannot be repaired, losses that irrevocably change lives, and murdered victims who will never return to us in this life.
Perhaps one of the most important things we can do is be the messengers to victims and their loved ones that they are, indeed, not alone. That they are promised a new day when their tears shall become shouts of joy. This does not mean that we should encourage crime victims to forget their pain; however, in simply being with our brothers and sisters who are suffering from victimization and in acknowledging the unspeakable tragedies they are enduring, we can offer them a glimmer of hope that is promised beyond this suffering. We can help them put one foot in front of the other, with just the tiniest of steps at first, in slowly making their way out of paralyzing despair and hopelessness and into the first glimmer of life after victimization.
The theme for this year's National Crime Victims' Rights Week is Victims' Rights: Reach for the Stars. Reaching for the stars is a fitting comparison to what we ask crime victims to do when recovering from the trauma of victimization. Believing that they can recover, believing that God is there for them throughout their suffering may at first seem as inconceivable as believing they might reach out and touch the stars. Although it is difficult for crime victims to really "recover" from crime in terms of returning to the state of their lives prior to victimization, we can assist them in the very long process of adjustment and acceptance to whatever changes in their lives the victimization has wrought. For many crime victims, this long process is a "dark night of the soul" and filled with despair, anger, and hopelessness at the injustice of random and unexplained violence and violation.
Even though it is extremely difficult to be with people who are experiencing such tragedy, this is exactly where we can be most helpfulin physically being present with victims and reminding them, when the time is right, that God is present in their lives and will assist them in the long journey ahead. We can remind them, again when they are ready to hear, that some day their tears will be harvested with joy and they will return from the harvest singing. We can't explain to them why terrible injustices can occur, any more than we can explain why horrible things happen every day throughout the world. We can only help them in every way we can to do what they need to do to proceed on their journey, and remain steadfast in our faith that God is there guiding us all along the way.
One of the hardest things in life to do is to be present with another individual who is in intolerable painphysical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual. Everything in us cries out to make it better, to do something to take away the pain. But sometimes all we are asked to do is to sit still and listen and simply be there for someone. And again, when the time is right and in many different ways, we can be the voice that reminds one of our brothers or sisters that God is still there, like the ever present stars in the heavens. In reaching out to our friends and neighbors in need, we are a physical reminder of God's presence, and maybe we can be the one person who is able to bring someone back from the brink of hopelessness and despair and encourage them to make that first tiny effort at "reaching for the stars," at reaching out for new life and new meaning in the midst of tragedy, at reaching out and reclaiming their own lives in a journey of faith.