Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Gift of Fear

I turned on my phone this morning and checked the temperature, took a quick glance at the happenings of the day on my calendar and wondered if the rain was going to hold off so that I could get outside for a bit and work in the garden beds. I clicked on Facebook and the first thing I read was a dear friends post about almost being mugged in St. Paul last night.  She was hurt when her cross body purse strap broke and the heft of purse bounced back as slammed her in the side of the head.  She is shaken, in pain, tired and exhausted and was facing a difficult day ahead.  

I reached out to her first to tell her that I love her and that I was so very sorry that this happened. She has decided to not report the incident yet keep a very watchful eye. 

I reminded her of the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. Originally written in 1997, it immediately pushed to the number one spot on The New York Times Best Seller List. Reprinted many times over, De Becker has also written a number of additional Best Selling Books, Protecting the Gift and Fear Less being among them.  The Gift deals with understanding that fear can be a gift or a curse, and how to understand the difference. It arms the reader with facts of how each person develops fear and how each person deals with it differently.  It also talks about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from violence.  

I often do not recommend books such as this but have learned that books like this one matter greatly.  For most of us, we do not live in a state where we feel we constantly have to be on guard. We don't feel fearful of other people that we pass on the street, in parking lots or even at work or school.  We don't always feel the need to grip our keys in such a manner that we could fight someone off or brush up on our self defense skills.  But as any violent crime study or person in law enforcement and defense will tell you, it is still very important to be knowledgeable and prepared even if it happens to you only once in a lifetime. 

My friend didn't wake up yesterday morning believing Tuesday was the day she would be attacked. She didn't wake up and give herself a pep talk in the mirror before leaving her apartment.  She did live out her day as she always does. Loving and taking care of her amazing son, texting her fiance, chatting with friends, preparing for the busyness of Wednesday meetings.  She went to bed last night crying a bucket of tears and experiencing pain and being filled with fear. 

This morning, she woke and decided that she would arm herself. She is a strong woman who wrote about her experience, what she will do going forward and made an actual decision to not let fear consumer her.  Surely, there will be tears when the memory floods her mind. But that fear will not overtake her.  She is armed with knowledge and awareness. She is armed with the gift of fear. 

There have been many times in my life when I found that I possessed the Gift of Fear without even knowing what it was.  
When I was about 15, my dad and my sister and I were at a movie theater. The lobby was very full as many movies were preparing to let out and the next movies to start at the top of the hour.  I casually held onto a soda as my dad held the popcorn he purchased. As more and more people exited the crowded theaters, the noise and energy levels increased as I felt the crowd slightly move forward in anticipation of entering the movie. I felt physical pressure from behind and stepped forward a half step. The pressure was still there. On my butt and low back. I turned to make sure that it wasn't my dad trying to usher me forward. It wasn't my father. It was a man standing behind me smiling. I winced and tears poked at the corners of my eyes.  The man moved his hand ever so slightly and cupped my entire cheek. I stepped forward as far as I could without stepping on the person in front of me.

The mans hands were still firmly placed on my backside.  I was frozen. Frozen in fear.  At 15, I had yet to develop my voice.  My voice that could have yelled, "Stop touching me. Move away." My voice should have said, "Dad, help me."  I was frozen.  I didn't move. I didn't speak. In those few seconds, I kept thinking, no, he isn't doing this. He is just being pushed from behind also.  But I knew that wasn't true. In a split second, my heart racing, I stepped in front of my dad, inserting my body in the small space between him and person in front of him. Tears filling my eyes, a silent scream never came.  My dad's instincts took over. He clothes lined my left shoulder and pushed me out of harms way as he powered to his right in front of the man who had been touching me. The man was almost an entire head taller than my dad.

Because I wasn't able to say a word, my dad didn't know what happened or what was making me act in such a way. But seeing me cry was all he needed to understand that something wasn't right and that possible danger loomed. My father raised his chin and looked that man in the eye. Tears pouring down my cheeks from about 4 feet away by then, I saw my father stare him down until the man said, " Excuse me, " and quickly pushed past. Shaking, I stood there. My dad seemed to take a single step back to me. He placed his arm around my shoulder and ushered me to side where fewer people were congregating. 

The only words I could form were, "He was touching me. He was too close. I couldn't handle it."  My dad hugged my shaking shoulders, told me I did the right thing. He said, always flee, always ask for help. He affirmed me. I told him I was scared.  He shook his head up and down.  He wiped my tears and asked what I wanted to do.  I couldn't imagine leaving. I wanted to sit down. We went into the movie. I sat through an entire movie. And to this day, I couldn't tell you the movie that we watched that night. 

My dad and I never talked about that night again.  I kind of wish that we had.  I didn't tell my mom what happened, and I don't think he did either. My dad didn't even know. He just knew that I was shaken to the core. I did tell my best friend and then I told my husband years later when I was writing an article about the frequency of unwanted sexual advances directed at women.  Both of them had the same response. Why didn't you scream?  This is why I knew the term Frozen With Fear was a very real thing. 

When the words will not come. When a scream can't find it's way. My mind and body understood what was happening. I was being touched, groped, against my will. My father was able to create a physical barrier without even knowing what he was protecting me from. 

A few months back, my husband and I and our kids were at a concert at church.  One of our favorite bands, we were all so excited. In the crowded lobby, we stood for quite some time waiting to get in and get the best seats that would work for us.  The doors were not yet open, yet I felt a bit of a press from behind. And then I felt a full on press from behind. A man had aligned his entire body body behind me so that not an inch of his body from the waist down wasn't touching me.  My husband standing clearly to my left wasn't the man behind me. My children were in front of me. I turned and saw another creepy smile.  Another creepy smile of a man taking liberties because he thought he could in such a crowded space. In a church, he thought this would be acceptable? Anywhere? Ever? 

I leaned forward and said to my husband, "Help me, this man." And I jutted my chin in the creepers direction. My husband immediately took action, took my wrist and pulled me to where he was standing and inserted his body to where I had been standing. The man immediately stepped back as not to "spoon" my husband standing up. In stepping back, he stumbled on the feet of the person behind him.  I said, " Oh, be careful, " in a less than kind tone.  My husband stood there, firm stance facing the door continuing to physically protect me by shielding my body with his.  The man sunk back into the crowd and I didn't see him again. 

I wish that these two instances had never happened. But they are a reality for women every day.  Whether 15 or 42 years of age, situations occur which make women feel fearful.  But that fear is right, that fear protects, that fear enables physical safety to occur because of fleeing.  I am thankful for that fear. I am thankful that I have been able to use that fear, that gut instinct, as as a gift, not a curse. 

Over these past 25+ years, I have developed a voice. No, I will not be able to avoid every situation that presents possible danger.  But I am more aware, have fine tuned my scream and am now able to ask for immediate help when needed.  But what do we do when we are alone like my friend was last night? You do what she did. She picked herself up, pounding head and broken purse in hand, and carried on.  She called in the Calvary of family and friends to help her. Those that love her daily, encourage her relentlessly and will continue to do so. She wrote about her experience, what she was thinking and feeling, and came up with a game plan if she were to encounter him or someone else that wishes to do her harm ever again. 

She chose not to be a victim of fear. A woman frozen in fear. Her voice and ability to talk about what happened, not only assists in her own processing and healing from a horrible circumstance, but it can also be used to fuel a flame in someone else. It can be used to encourage someone who has yet to discover their own voice, inspire someone who hasn't yet been able to stand up for themselves. Our life experiences equip us and others with the knowledge that is needed to move forward. And moving forward is exactly what my friend plans on doing.  

My love to you today and always sweet girl. 

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