I was thinking about how when major tragedies occur, as observers, we are always quick to project that “we can not let fear stop us from living our daily lives;” “we must keep living as we always have.” If I’m being honest, that was always my sentiments regarding such events and their potential impact on a community as well. However, this past couple of weeks, I am starting to more fully understand what it means to actually be fearful.
There have been massive shootings in my neighborhood lately, most of them gang-related and often during the late night to early morning hours. However, there have also been two execution-style murders that took place in the early morning hours less than a mile from my home, and one of them my boyfriend missed being in that exact location by only 25 minutes. Now, I was doing fine, as I am not one who listens to the news but only in the car for my 20 minutes of commuting per day, and the channel is not one that promotes fear-mongering.
I was walking home from a neighbor’s home, where I had been caring for their cats, in the early morning, and I saw a figure standing in the alley that I cross. The person had an umbrella, a hat on, and a hoodie up over it. For me, with my visual impairment, this prevented me from seeing their face. As I approached, which, in retrospect, I don’t know why I didn’t just cross the street, the figure looked up. I had been on a speakerphone call with my mom, and suddenly I became overcome with fear. I stopped moving. The figure took a step toward me and said: “I’m going to kill you.” Now, we always want to think our instinct will be to run, or scream, or attack, but I stood there frozen with fear. As my mom was frantically trying to understand what was happening, my boyfriend suddenly said to me, “What are you doing? I’m just messing with you.” He was not aware that I was unable to see his face and that I had absolutely no idea it was him. I immediately burst into sobbing tears; I hadn’t been that afraid since I came within ten feet of a grizzly bear in a National Park two summers back.
I must clarify and say that my boyfriend would never intentionally scare me like that; he had no idea why I was acting so strange. He had actually come to meet me to be sure I was safe. Here’s the thing; up until that happened, I think I was maintaining the sentiment of just going about my day to day, yes, with a bit more caution, but still just living. However, since that very moment, I must admit to having sincere fear as I am out and about in my neighborhood each day, dog walking and exercising. I feel that sensation of paranoia as each unknown figure approaches me, especially as I rarely ever see people’s faces, and I find myself suspicious of every slowing car or neighbor cutting through the alley.
Some of you might be thinking that I finally woke up to the reality of the situation, and others might be thinking that i have let fear guide me. I suspect both are true. But fear, genuine fear, is powerful and worth respecting. Even if it’s not ours.
We don’t know, as we pass another in an evening parking lot, and they give us a sharp stare, whether they are genuinely an unpleasant person, or perhaps a survivor of a traumatic experience, or even just simply afraid within the environment. We like to label them as ‘rude,’ or ‘unfriendly,’ or a ‘man-hater,’ but the truth is, we don’t know the truth. Labeling each other is more about our brain finding a meaning for a situation, to create a closure, and thus allow us to let it go and move on. What I would like to propose is compassion.
What if every person, that I was hard-staring over these past two weeks, could actually hold compassion for me, as a fellow human being. Sure, they don’t know my history, my visual impairment, the event that triggered my profound fear, or my general outlook on others, but what if their label could be – It is obvious that something is happening for you to look at me that way, I will hold compassion in my heart for you, as you work through it. What if you could do that for the next person you come upon that you would like to label? Where inside yourself can you reach to cultivate your compassion?