How Love Can Overturn Hate, Following Pittsburgh Anti-Semitism Murders

#LoveThyNeighbor

I am not Jewish. Either by birth or religion.

Still, I felt compelled to attend last night’s public memorial for eleven people who were murdered in a Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA. The service was held at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, where thousands packed the hall and thousands more stood in the chilly rain outside. Once I managed to squeeze inside, I thought how fitting that Abraham Lincoln’s words from his Nov. 19, 1863, Gettysburg Address are inscribed on its walls.

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…”


I live ninety minutes south of Pittsburgh. I still remember family trips we took there, beginning in the early 1970s. But more recently, one of my daughters reintroduced me to the melting pot that is Steel City, a place built and inhabited by immigrants from all walks of life. Thanks to her, I probably spent more time there during the last six years than all the other years combined.

So I felt the city’s loss keenly.

At first, I tried not to think about it. Then I learned that four police officers who tried to stop the gunman were shot in the line of duty. My entire adult life has been spent with and around law enforcement, so I felt a sense of camaraderie, for them and their families.

Finally, I heard that the victims’ names had been released—and I thought about all the people I had met during recent visits to Pittsburgh. Wonderful people, many of whom are Jewish. I recalled the warm and cozy times my daughter and I dined at Dobra Tea, one of her favorite Squirrel Hill haunts.

Given that, there was no way I could not go. Paying my respects was the least I could do.

I don’t hate anyone. However, I do hate the actions that some people take, like happened Saturday afternoon when Robert Bowers, 46, opened fire and killed eleven people at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

Why did this happen? Because Bowers looked at those parishioners and saw only a label: Jewish.

It also happened because there really is evil among us. I know a little about evil, having covered a local murder here a few years ago. Evil is the only explanation for how two bright, talented and pretty teenage girls could murder a third teen who had once been a close friend.

Hate is evil.

Following the 2016 presidential election, my blog was one of the first about hate speech, a particular flavor of evil. I tweeted and blogged about two gay men who were the target of a hateful, homophobic act. (Ironically, I, too, received a few hate-filled tweets after I reported this news.)

Since then, hatred for people who are different than us has only increased. Especially is this true for those of the Jewish faith.

“Us,” as I use it, is anyone who aligns himself or identifies with, a specific group that spews hate speech toward people who are different, or with whose views they disagree. Not everyone who identifies with a particular label (think alt-right or even Democrat or Republican) feels or acts on hatred—but many of them do.

I know about hatred inspired by labels, because I grew up in a religious home. And while wearing that label as a child of eight, a woman chased a friend of mine who was thirteen and me from her porch—with a broom. About ten years ago, I was with a developmentally disabled youth, knocking on the door of another home, in a different community. In return, the man let his vicious dogs loose to chase us away.

In both cases, we didn’t speak badly, or retaliate, against either homeowner. We acknowledged that, while morally wrong, their actions arose from ignorance. Because, after all, we came in peace, offering a message of love. Had they stopped to listen, or think, they would have realized this. And perhaps our compassion would have won them over. I like to think so.

Hate only incites more hate. A person filled with hate for his fellow man will only spew more hatred, if that’s all he surrounds himself with. But compassion can change people. Even a hate mongering, conspiracy theorist like Bowers. So far we know he spewed hate for Jews and immigrants (whom he and some others have taken to labeling “invaders”). He did this online, at a social media site called “Gab.”

Given that none of Bowers’ neighbors really knew him and people who attended high school with him recalled him as a loner—if they remembered him at all—is proof that a little compassion could have gone a long way. For instance, mental health experts know that isolation is dangerous. Whether self-imposed or not, people cut off from family and friends tend to become unstable.

How could they not? Humans are tribal people. We came from family units, and were designed to be part of a society. That’s why people like Bowers are called anti-social. Another label, one that need not exist—if only people would stop and pay more attention to the outcasts and loners among us.

I am reminded that when the Jews and others were loaded into cattle cars and placed into concentration camps during World War II, they were known not by their names—but by numbers, and labels sewn onto their prison garb. A yellow triangle for Jews, a purple one for Jehovah’s Witnesses, the letter “P” for Polish prisoners.

Labels allow us to dehumanize our fellow man: white, black, Jewish, Catholic, straight, gay, handicapped, decrepit, rich, poor, or immigrant. What if we stop using labels altogether, and simply view each other as we are: human beings? That is to say, people from the same species, who are just like you and me.

We are all just human beings in need of kindness, especially now.

What if, every time we’re in the company of someone who appears different from us—whether we’re merely passing each other in a crowded crosswalk or sitting down in a classroom, sports stadium or movie theatre—we instead think: this person is my brother? My sister?

Or, what if we go a step further and speak to those strangers? Invite them for coffee or a meal? Offer them a shoulder to cry on?

Ah, but that’s when the power for change really happens. R&B musician Daryl Davis knows this. “Establish dialogue. When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting,” he told the Daily Mail in 2013.

I heard Davis speak a few months ago, while listening to an episode of Snap Judgment. I was fascinated as I heard the blues musician tell how he became friends with a high-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan. That man later resigned his post. Why? Because through his friendship with Davis, a black man, that previously racist white man came to know a basic human truth: no matter our race, religion, gender, or ethnic background, we are more alike than we are different.

Knowing this truth, and then acting on it, is how love can overturn hate.

* * *

Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

People Cite Trump as Reports of Hate Crimes Against Muslims and Gays Increase After Election

First came the stealthy knock, carried out under cover of darkness.

Then the sound of footsteps, running away from the house.

And then, the horrible message: “TRUMP is our president now. Get out of our neighborhood now FAGGOTS!!”

I hate that word. I refuse to utter it and hate to even type it. Or share it on social media, which I felt forced to do today.

Corey Hurley found the note, printed in black ink on a piece of plain notebook paper. It was lying at his feet when he opened the door after being awakened at 3 a.m. Thursday morning.
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“I was terrified,” Hurley said during a telephone interview. “I knew things were going to start getting a little crazy . . . but I didn’t know it was going to (happen here).”

When I first read the note, posted on a stranger’s Facebook page, I was carried back to 1992. To the day when I took time off work to visit the principal at Kingwood Elementary School, an hour away from Clarksburg – and begged administrators to stop the harassment and name calling. The same name as appeared on the paper found at Hurley’s feet, paper that any child in America might use to complete a homework assignment. The same word directed at my son, Zach, then age eight.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the last 24 hours have seen a significant increase in reports of hate speech and hate crimes around the country. Most have been directed at Muslims, but some in the gay community are being targeted, too.

Like happened to Hurley – and his partner, Kyle Chester.

And my son, who in didn’t know even what sex was at age eight. Much less sexual orientation. All he knew was that the boys in his class didn’t like him. And my visits to his school, and even later, a letter from my children’s therapist, did little to change that.

“This one that you sent me (that Hurley and Chester received) looks like one of the more aggressive that I’ve seen on the anti-gay front,” Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, said.

That unit monitors hate crime traffic. Beirich said the Harrison County case is one of “many, many instances we’re hearing about across the country, where people are seemingly victims of what appear to be hate crimes and reference Trump.”
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This is the first time since 2008, when another President took office. “We haven’t seen an outbreak of what looks like hate incidents since Obama was elected,” Beirich said, “when something similar happened.”

But then, the SPLC saw a “rash of hate incidents (against) black people,” because some people were angry about having a black President.

It’s a different dynamic now, though. “In this case,” Beirich said, “people who look like they support Trump or have sympathies with Trump are attacking minorities.”

Numerous reports have been fielded, she said, of “Muslims having their headscarves pulled off and a ton of incidents in schools . . . there seems to be a rash of these incidents across the nation.”

By the time Zach was in high school, the situation was no better. “I always got threatened in high school. I didn’t tell you because you would have just made it worse.”

One day during a break from theatre practice, Zach was walking outside near the football field. The players were tossing a ball around when “one of them threw the ball at my head, and very narrowly missed me.” Zach threw the football “all the way across the football field so they had to go into the woods to get it.”

Some of the players approached Zach as he walked back into the school. One boy wanted to fight. “So I just stood up to them and let him get into my face and I wouldn’t back down.” The football player turned and walked away.

Hurley, a lifelong Harrison County, West Virginia, resident, has never experienced this kind of violence. “It’s always been more accepting,” he said. “I’ve never had any problems with my sexuality from people before, so I was kind of shocked to see that it happened here in Clarksburg.”

Frightened and shocked, Hurley woke up Chester, who took action. The Lexington, Kentucky, native made sure their home was secure – and then told Hurley they had to call the police.

They did. Chester spoke to Deputy Chief James Chamberlain, with the Clarksburg City Police Department. And patrol cars drove by “a couple of times” afterward, but that’s all. When Chester called later this morning, an administrative worker told him the police couldn’t do anything else. Not until, Chester said, they had “concrete evidence as to where it came from or who did it.”

It’s difficult to understand how police could gather concrete evidence when, 12 hours later, no officer had shown up to even begin the investigation. I tried to reach Chamberlain, but he did not return my call. However, not long after, Hurley and Chester did get a phone call. They were told to go to the Clarksburg police station and file an official report. A “very nice” officer collected the hateful note left at their door.

So now, the investigation into a potential hate crime has begun.

Beirich said it’s hard not to link this kind of hatred with the President-elect. “Trump is referenced in some way. If you’re going to use the word ‘Trump,’ you obviously think this is somehow connected to your support of the President-elect . . . Given Trump’s xenophobic, racist, and so on comments during the campaign,” she said, “it’s not surprising that some people would feel emboldened to do these things.”

While the SPLC doesn’t yet have a tally for how much hate speech, or how many hate crimes have occurred since Trump became President-elect, Beirich said it’s “several dozen.”

They don’t yet know how serious it is, but sadly, incidents like these are happening in America’s schools. At all grade levels. “We’re particularly concerned about stuff happening in schools, involving children,” Beirich said. Muslim students, especially, are being targeted. Being told to “get out of the country.”

The SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance program has specific information available for teachers, to help them deal with the backlash.

“It’s tragic to see this happening,” Beirich said, while urging all victims to report such hatred to police, as well as the SPLC. And urging police to officially investigate.

“Any of those kids could have kicked my (butt),” Zach said. “I stood up to them – no, I didn’t back down from them. There’s a big difference.”

I asked him to clarify.

Zach did. “Standing up to someone is when you realize that something bad is happening and you actually confront them about it. Not backing down is just standing your ground if someone confronts you.”

I asked him if it worked.

“It definitely helped,” Zach said. “If I had acted in a different manner, maybe more submissive, they would have tried to do more. But if you let them know you’re not going to back down, they have a little more respect for you.”

Respect. That’s what this boils down to. It’s all Hurley and Chester really want, too. So they’re getting their friends involved, to help spread this message:

“We’re human beings, too, just like everybody else,” Chester said, “and we deserve the same rights and respect that anybody else does, in any neighborhood across the country.”

Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

“You’re Going to Sell a Million Copies”

That’s some powerful positive thinking going on, and it’s what one reader told me in a message a couple of days ago. Oddly enough, I woke up this morning feeling the same way, that belief having taken root in my brain. I sat up in bed and realized that today is the day Shatter the Silence comes out. Yay! So today is going to be amazing. I’ve never sold a million books before, and I can’t wait to see how that feels!

Maybe it’s the power of the story that has bouyed me with that belief. When writing Sister of Silence, the first book in what is now a series, I thought of it as a book for women. But then men began writing to me, thanking me for writing it. For helping them to “be a better man,” as one man put it.

Shatter the Silence is a love story, so that places it in the romance genre, but since this book is a true love story, it’s also memoir. And guess what? Men are loving it! That’s almost unheard of, when it comes to romance. (So I’m told. Not sure if I believe it.) But this book is about a police officer who worked as a deputy sheriff, when I was a news reporter at my first job. I know we live in a time of great mistrust when it comes to law enforcement, and I understand that, but I think this true story will help restore your faith in the men and women who walk the thin blue line.

Maybe I believe this book will sell a million copies because of something Sarah Rosier Nora posted on my Facebook page this morning. “Readers, get ready to laugh, cry, and fall in love all over again. You’ll root for the real couple in SHATTER THE SILENCE!” Sarah works in a library and reads a lot of books, so she knows a good book when she sees one.

I also believe selling a million copies can happen, though, because in less than one hour—at 10 a.m. (EDT)—almost one-half million people will be talking about this book. That’s when my Thunderclap campaign for my newest baby goes live—thanks to you. All of you, on Facebook and Twitter, who shared and asked your friends to support it. All I had to do was ask for your help, and you gave it. Not only did we meet our minimum goal, we exceeded it! Thank you so very much. YOU are spectacular! And I am so grateful. I truly do love my readers, because you give me something to strive for—that next story. Which I write for you. With much love!

I also love everyone who helped me get this book out the door. And cannot thank you all enough. I hope I remembered you all in the acknowledgements section. If I didn’t, please let me know and I’ll do that in the next book. You’ll be joining a long, long list of folks, too, because I’m thanking everyone by name who took part in the Thunderclap campaign.

It’s a beautiful day here in Morgantown, West Virginia. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the weatherman promises it’s going to be semi-warm (What can I say? This is WV, where it could snow tomorrow.) If you want to read a good love story, I’ve been told this is it. Get your copy today!

ORDER HERE :
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══ SYNOPSIS ══

Shatter the Silence is the romantic and long-awaited sequel by New York Times Best-Selling Author Daleen Berry. The sequel to Sister of Silence, Ms. Berry’s 2011 breakout memoir about surviving abuse, Shatter the Silence is set in 1990s Appalachia.

This romantic memoir weaves accounts of the true crimes Ms. Berry covered while working as a news reporter with details of her divorce, her ex-husband’s ongoing harassment following their divorce, and finally, her love affair with the police detective who became first, a colleague, then a friend, and ultimately, the man who helped save her life.

══ CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR ══

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Listen, Learn and Love: My 2016 New Year’s Motto

It was almost midnight when she made her entrance, the beautiful, fair-skinned blonde with a red flower in her hair. Unlike most of the women I saw on the streets of Morgantown last night, she wore slacks. Not a sequined miniskirt.

Three men, possibly of Pakistani descent, in a nearby booth greeted her, and one of them stood out of what appeared to be a show of respect (perhaps they all did; I can’t recall), of chivalry, and to greet her with a kiss. That was when I knew: they were a couple.

I was at Gibbie’s eating a very late supper as I watched the people around me preparing to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. The trio drank water or soda, which could mean they are Muslim. I didn’t notice her drink, which doesn’t matter anyway. What I did see was the essence of happiness and, perhaps, a twinge of trepidation, before she showed up.

Morgantown is a melting pot, filled with people from around the world who swirl around each other like vegetables in a thick stew. Many, many of them have dark skin, but I’ve never thought a problem. I’m sure most people here don’t.

I hope not, anyway. Not when every interaction I’ve ever had, as a woman, has been positive and even uplifting. Has filled me with awe at the level of respect I encounter—respect I haven’t received from most the Caucasian men in my life. In my intimate life, not my everyday, professional one, where all the men who know me are the epitome of respect.

But I digress. I watched the trio of friends before the red-flowered blonde’s arrival, and couldn’t help but notice that none of them made eye contact with me. I don’t know if that’s “the new norm” for people of Middle Eastern descent during these recent tense days, but I hope not. Which is why I smiled, when one of the youth passed my booth. He did a double take, as if he wasn’t expecting such warmth, and shyly smiled in return.

That’s when I began thinking about what it must be like for Muslims and people who don’t practice that faith but who are nonetheless lumped together, because of the color of their skin. How hard it must be, as it often is for women who are mistreated at home and even in the workplace, simply because of our gender. Because we are different from middle-class, white males whose power and influence can extend well beyond ours.

When the clock struck 12 a.m., ringing in 2016, the four friends raised their glasses in a toast. I heard the handsome fellow who shyly responded to my smile say, “with water,” and laugh. Then, as the quartet took turns hugging each other, the beautiful blonde turned to her bearded beau and they kissed. And kissed. And kissed. As all around them, the world came to a stop. It was not an ephemeral scene. It was timeless.

And it made me wish I could trade places with her, or with any of the four people celebrating in that booth. In spite of their possible troubles, to have that sense of love and happiness—that is what I want in 2016.

For you, for me, for everyone. No matter their gender, their religion, or their flesh tone. Listen, learn, and love, and see all the beauty around you.

This is my New Year’s motto.

* * * *

My latest book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, was released November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

An Open Letter to All the Boyfriends I Didn’t Have

Sometimes they’re angry and sometimes they’re sad. Many times they simply want to ask if I’m happy now. Or say they hope I am.

These are my readers, and they are men. They are the men who read my memoir, Sister of Silence. Not a few of them were once gangly teenage boys, on the verge of manhood but not quite there. We covertly passed around contraband—outlawed Raisinets and other candy—in class, chatted together on the school bus, or acted opposite each other in stage plays.

None of them were my boyfriend, not for lack of trying. Nor did a single boy ever cross the line so as to honestly claim some kind of physical contact. I was all prim and proper, and that wasn’t in my nature.

Well, one boy did try. He was that ornery—albeit very cute—kid I passed every day in the school bus aisle my senior year. He pinched my backside, probably because he wanted to know if all the rumors were true about the “snow queen” with the long blonde hair.

We’ll call him Norm. I still remember it. I didn’t even think. I just reacted. The slap that was heard around the school actually came from my hand making contact with his cheek, and brought us instant celebrity. Norm’s daring antic and my no-nonsense response made for great hallway, locker room, and even, years later, high school reunion fodder.

While I gave Norm the evil eye for the rest of the year, by the time I graduated, he was forgiven. I realized he meant no harm. We’ve rarely seen each other since high school, but that adolescent episode never fails to entertain all our friends when we do, and it’s accompanied by good-natured teasing and lots of laughter every time.

The biggest reason those high school guys never tried to touch me, never came close to being my beau, however, is because I was taken. Not by a boyfriend, although at the time I thought he qualified—but by the family friend who made sure no one else could have me. He wasn’t some pimply-faced youth; he was an adult.

This most recent inquiry didn’t come to me via email or Facebook. It was from someone parked somewhere in New York state, and when my phone vibrated, I found his text message while parked in my car outside a local deli last week.

I just finished your book. I have a lot of feelings, but I am happy that you were able to gain control of your life. I hope the rest of it makes up for some of the horrors that you had to endure.

At first, I thought it was a random female reader—until I realized I hadn’t updated the contact list on my new iPhone. Then I realized: it was Roger Castle, the fellow who was practically a neighbor back then, but who really had a major crush on my sister, Lisa. Not me.

I had given him a copy of my book over lunch recently, when he, my husband, and I chatted about our native Preston County, our weird-yet-shared connection to county surveyors there, our families and . . . the proper way to barbecue. Turns out, Roger is quite the grill master, and his homemade sauce is the best I’ve ever tasted. (He also said it was fine to share his comments with my readers.)

I could tell Roger was troubled and needed to tell me why. So I called him, and as my carryout dinner grew cold, I listened. He began by saying he was surrounded by a very large group of men, barbecuing and doing the outdoor things men do, and he couldn’t put my book down until he turned the last page.

Roger told me he couldn’t understand how I had survived everything I did, and what was particularly troubling to me, at least, is how he seemed to blame himself.  And wished he could have helped me, all those years ago.

They always apologize, these men who write. For not knowing the sins of one of their own, for not seeing the signs, for not being able to protect me or stop the abuse. Sometimes, they tell me they would have beat up my boyfriend, who later became my ex-husband, if they had known. If only they could have. These words bring tears to my eyes and fill me with comfort. They provide a small measure of solace in a very large way.

And sometimes, they leave me wishing for the way things weren’t. For that boyfriend who would have acted like I was the center of his world, who could have treated me with love and kindness, who should have been more concerned about my health and happiness than his own sexual gratification.

I know good men still exist. The words men like Roger and others write confirm this. But none of those men were my boyfriend. Yes, I had a few crushes, only one of which went even to the point of a chaste kiss. But once I was molested at age thirteen, by the man who claimed me as his property, there was no other boy. No other boyfriend.

I now realize there were many boys I smiled at or even spoke to every day in school who wanted a chance to be my beau, if only I wasn’t already taken. This is what I would tell them: it wasn’t your fault, any more than it was mine. If I couldn’t see what was happening to me, couldn’t comprehend it until years later, how could you? That was a job for the adults in our lives, not one that we as immature teenagers were equipped to handle.

So please, let yourself off the hook. Forgive yourself, for you did nothing wrong. Neither did I. That is our common bond, one we could all do well to remember.

Life has a way of working itself out and if what happened to me hadn’t, I would not be where I am right now, speaking up and warning other women not waste a single breath being a doormat for any man who is so selfish he cannot love himself, much less anyone else. Life is too short, and there are plenty of good men out there. I know this, because they write to me. Or their wives do, telling me wonderful things about them.

All you have to do is open your eyes and look for them, because sometimes they’re sitting right beside you wanting more than anything to be your boyfriend. These are the men who will protect you and fight for you—not with you. They really will.

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Love? It Really Is a Battlefield!

Pat Benatar, or her songwriter, really got it right. It is a war out there, and people in love are on the front lines. Like wounded soldiers, thousands fall every day, bloody and bruised. Unable to get back up.

People in relationships where love is alive take bullets for their loved ones all the time. Or try to dodge the verbal missiles of their beloved. It happens in every type of relationship, be it husband and wife, mother and daughter, or brother and sister.

Love is the most powerful emotion there is. After all, love can lead to a wide-ranging array of other feelings: passion (or compassion), empathy, and loyalty. Conversely, it may also give rise to jealousy, mistrust, and anger. Even hate. It really depends on how the beloved one treats someone else’s love. How much it matters to them. Or how deeply they feel love in return.

Love has always been a battlefield, but it’s still alive.

When love withers, it’s usually not because it died a natural death. It’s because two people stopped trying. Loving someone is hard work. Sometimes, excruciatingly so. It doesn’t matter if you’re best friends, siblings, lovers, or spouses. Which is why, if you love someone, you might want to think of that relationship as a job. Not a chore you grudgingly perform, like cleaning the toilet or taking out the trash. Not a debt you owe that you can’t ever seem to find the cash to repay. But as a job you love and would willingly do without receiving a cent in return. Your dream job, if you will.

In these days of instant gratification and electronic umbilical cords, we’re more disconnected than ever. We’re growing farther apart, so working on a relationship is getting harder. It takes more time and energy, rather than less. And this as our lives are becoming more chaotic, so much so that all we really want to do when we have a few free minutes is crash in front of the computer or the TV, or maybe just fall, exhausted, onto our bed.

Don’t do it! Don’t give in to that deceptive desire. That’s how love becomes a battlefield, with shrapnel flying every which way. If you’re going to do battle, then fight to keep love alive.

Because we–none of us–can do without love. Without it, we die. For with love comes touch. Without love, we don’t have skin-to-skin contact, whether that means a pat on the back, a hearty, two-armed hug, or an assorted variety of kisses or caresses. Sadly, without human touch, we lose part of our humanity. That’s when we begin to shrivel up and die, or slowly lose touch with what is good and right in the world. Or fail to make sound decisions. Or perhaps, if we’re deprived of love and human touch from childhood, we never gain the ability to even learn how.

It’s not getting any easier, but it is becoming tremendously important to show and feel love these days. To stay in love, if you already are. To reach out and seek love, if it’s missing in your life. To tell your mother or father or sister or brother or significant other that they are loved. That you love them. No matter what firearm has come your way. Tried to kill this life-sustaining emotion.

One word is all that’s needed, when it comes to love being a battlefield.

Surrender.

Because, as Max Muller said, “A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and a man cannot live without love.”

Editor’s note: Berry and another West Virginia author, Geoff Fuller (Full Bone Moon), have recently teamed up to write the authorized version of the Skylar Neese murder. Berry’s TEDx talk, given April 13 at Connecticut College, is now live. Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Traveling Solo: It Always Pays When Someone’s “Got Your Back”

In January, my friend Sheila and I went to Mexico for our mutual friend Olga’s wedding. We knew a little Spanish, but not much. An hour after our plane landed, we got into a car with two men, strangers we had never met, and began a one-hour journey to our destination.

In Italy two weeks ago, where I was attending a writer’s conference, I did the same thing again, and I don’t speak a word of Italian: I walked through the city with two other male strangers, got into their car, and sat back for what turned out to be a short drive.

On Sunday afternoon, I got off the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) subway at Fields Station in (what has been described as a high-crime neighborhood) Dorchester, got into a car with another stranger and sat back not knowing where we were going.

Last night I learned that a murder occurred eight days earlier at Fields Station when 39-year-old Cherby LaJoie was killed after trying to resist the teens who tried to rob him. The teen charged with his murder is Earnest Watkins. He is just 14.

In Mexico, Olga had made arrangements to send two of her friends to fetch us from the airport. Turns out one of the men she sent is a volunteer lawyer who works on important issues involving the government.

In Italy, I began looking around for people I might recognize because of their dress and grooming. Seeing no one as I hoped to, I said a quick prayer asking for them to be sent to me. Less than five minutes later, I saw the two young men approaching me. I held up a Portuguese Bible tract and even though they only knew a smattering of English, we instantly became family.

In Boston two days ago, I dialed a phone number and asked where I might find a local Kingdom Hall. That’s what Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses call their meeting places. The man who answered, a local elder, told me how to get from the bus station to the subway, and exactly what to do when I departed the train at Fields Station. He also told me where to meet him. He is black, as was everyone else whom I passed or who sat waiting at the bus stop. I, obviously, am not.

I am one of almost 8 million Witnesses throughout the world. When I travel, I am strengthened to withstand my own weaknesses, other people’s rudeness or their even downright nasty behavior, when I can congregate with my spiritual family. No matter our skin color, our language, our socio-economic background or anything else, we are family. Which is pretty important, when you’re a woman traveling alone to big cities or foreign countries. It means someone always has your back. That you have friends in places where you’ve never been.

Like us, hate us, or slam the door in our faces, there are a few things you might not know—-and which the media rarely reports on. For instance, if you lose your briefcase and it’s got a ton of cash inside (That’s no doubt a rare scenario in these tough economic times, but still.) the chance of it being returned if a Witness finds it is 100-percent.

The reason we <a href=”http://www.knocking.org/”>come knocking</a> on your door is because of the pattern Jesus Christ set, when he trained his early disciples, sending them out by twos and telling them to go “from door to door.” It’s the same reason we let complete strangers into our homes and hand over the key, even when we’ve never met them: we live by the Bible’s admonition to treat others as we want to be treated.

One other thing you probably don’t know, but which I, as a reporter and indie book publisher, find fascinating: our two monthly journals, The Watchtower and Awake, are the most widely-circulated in the world. They go out to 236 lands. Each print run produces more than 42 million copies of The Watchtower are produced. (Awake is 41 million.) The only other magazine that even comes close is AARP’s paid journal. Yet they—-and all the other Bible education aids we use and share with our neighbors—-are designed, composed, printed and shipped by volunteers around the world. No one is paid, no matter what their position.

I don’t use this public website as a way to share my personal religious beliefs, because all too often, religion is not something people want to talk about. Just like politics. Unless you’re of the same affiliation, then it might be okay. However, I would like to say—-given my past abuse-—that many, many people have commented on my resilience. I can’t take much credit for that. Because honestly, the one thing that helps me leave the past in the past, when it comes to horrible and violent memories I cannot forget, is my strong faith. I also know if we want to and we work really hard at it, we can gain strength from various things around us. I gain my strength from Bible promises.

That strength also comes from Jehovah God and my worldwide family, who taught me why bad things happen to good people, and why they ultimately won’t happen at all. He, and they, also taught me that some people can be trusted. Implicitly. Even when you’ve never met them before.

* * * *
I’ll be in Boston until Thursday, when I fly home. Tonight I’ll be at the Out of the Blue Art Gallery at 7 p.m. It’s a weekly storytelling venue, located at 106 Prospect Street in Cambridge. Hopefully I’ll be able to share my story there, like I did with a group of social workers in Maine last week. Although, with only eight-minute slots, this will be a much-condensed version. So come out and hear what some people are calling “a riveting” story—mine or even someone else’s.

* * * *
Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why