Yesterday, in my relatively little town (population, about 30,000), over 4,100 people showed up on a cold December morning to walk or run—two mile walk, five kilometer run—in support of Safe Passage, an agency that runs a shelter for women and children, who have encountered domestic violence, and provides support services beyond the safe house. After walking or running in the sixth annual Mayor Higgins' Hot Chocolate Run to Support Safe Passage, the hoardes are treated to hot chocolate (free mugs commemorating the event to the first registrants even make hot chocolate drinking a somewhat green endeavor).

Lots of families participate. It would not have been an exaggeration to say the possibility for a stroller traffic jam was very likely (mine included; our wheels did clip a few heels in the crush at the beginning). The organization has been on my kids’ radar screens for a long time, and when asked why people would have to live in a shelter, we talk about how every person—every mother and every child—deserves a safe place to live, and that’s why a safe house like that exists, to help people be safe until a permanent safe place can be secured.

For my curious children, harder questions ensue, about why anyone would hurt a child or a grown-up. My answers have evolved to a pretty steady progression by now, along these lines: People in families do get angry—we know that, just from living together ourselves. No one should hurt another person. Sometimes, especially if a person was hurt as a child, they haven’t learned other ways to cope with anger than hurting. They don’t necessarily mean to, or want to, but they don’t have another way and they need help. That’s really sad. Being safe is the first and most important thing for other people in the families. From a safe place, everyone can find new ways to be, safe ones. My explanation (such as it is) might go further than the next person’s but I feel gist is this: every person deserves a safe place to live.

If anything, although the idea that kids or moms could be hurt is a painful one, there’s also a lot of hope in the notion that people are concerned enough to reach out and help families in crisis. We’ve also had really great discussions about how we—our generally nonviolent family unit, save for the occasional hit, hair pull, scratch or bite between sibs—deal with anger and hurt. For us, these conversations tend to take place when we are walking to school or to town, and I’ve noticed in our life, that walking really tends to be a very restorative pursuit. In that way, I love that we can help raise money for Safe Passage by the simple act of walking.

This is to say, out of the hardest things, we can find hope. And from our stories and through our interactions, we can make even the most complicated and painful things approachable. I felt that yesterday, the beauty of a community coming together, for a civic event, really, to say all of us, all these feet and hands and arms and hearts, want to help families to thrive.

* Thanks, Bill Dwight, for the photo.