I was driving from work to a friend's home in Silver Spring. As I headed up 16th Street, I stopped at a light and saw a woman, carrying an infant, jump from a car being driven by a man. She ran away, clutching the baby and screaming in apparent terror. The man tried to back up the car, presumably in hopes of forcing her back inside.
Momentarily immobilized, I was unable to help. By the time I had maneuvered a U-turn, the woman and child had disappeared. All I saw was the car hurtling off in the distance with the man at the wheel, driving alone.
I imagined the woman running onto somebody's doorstep, tearfully explaining that she was afraid of her husband and had nowhere to go, and asking for help. Perhaps she ended up at a home for abused women such as The House of Ruth.
It struck me that in running away with her child, the woman was engaging in one of those small acts of heroism that occur every day but often go unheralded. For she was willing to risk leaving her man, to jump from the known to the unknown.
As I headed toward Maryland, my thoughts drifted to another woman who had recently been involved in an instance of alleged abuse, in this case with a nationally known scholar.
Glenn C. Loury, 38, the top contender for undersecretary of education and a well-known political economist, was recently charged with assaulting his live-in girl friend, Pamela Foster, 23.
Charged in Boston Municipal Court with threatening to commit murder, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and malicious destruction of property, Loury pleaded not guilty. The well-known black conservative then withdrew his name from consideration for the education post, the agency's second highest, citing "personal reasons."
According to Foster, who met reporters as she left court with her neck immobilized in a brace, "In the heat of rage and anger, he dragged me down the stairs and threw me out!" Loury is scheduled to return to court Thursday for a hearing.
It is safe to assume that Foster had to withstand considerable pressure in daring to allege such a damaging incident involving a high-profile leader, a professor at Harvard University, who was still married, though estranged from his wife. Still, Foster had the courage to stand up.
As I crossed the District line, it struck me that here, then, were two kinds of courage: the courage to run and the courage to stand up. Although the woman who ran with the baby may not have had a place to go, and while Foster could tell her story to the media, the small acts of courage were parallel. They apparently came from some of the same roots and appear to be supported by some of the same phenomena.
Before the issue of abuse came out of the closet, there was a common thread among many abused persons -- men, women and children. It was the thought that they somehow deserved abuse or were unworthy of decent treatment and respect.
In recent years, there has been a growing willingness for the victims to discard such thoughts and focus the wrath where it belongs, on the abuser. Indeed, as the victims of abuse are increasingly buying into the new thinking, they are becoming increasingly empowered to cut themselves loose from abusers.
If abuse is a serious societal problem that cuts across age, racial and ethnic lines, the women in both of these cases -- both of whom are black -- have an added element with which to contend. Historically accused of tearing down their men, who often suffer disrespect in the larger society, many black women have felt it was their special duty to protect their men and they have suffered abuse in silence. Increasingly, women are learning that tolerating abuse helps neither the abused nor the abuser, for it is ultimately demeaning to both.
In an effort to deter spouse abuse, the D.C. police department is now instructing officers to make arrests in domestic disturbance calls when they have strong reasons to believe that violence occurred. I think that is a good policy. It helps women realize that esteem is not something given to us by others who treat us respectfully; it is something we give ourselves by treating ourselves respectfully.
In the end, it is such realizations that produce the strength to cultivate the feelings of self-worth that ultimately produce the courage to act.