I believe in resilience.
It’s December 24, 2008 and I am sitting in church waiting to celebrate my first Christmas with my husband. I am also sitting beside my fifth grade teacher by a mere coincidence; she is in my new adopted city celebrating with her sons. It is a nice surprise to see someone from my past. As I watch all the children full of energy and anticipation of the evenings’ promises I remember myself as a fifth grader.
Instead of thoughts of being young and the excitement of a possible visit by Santa Claus, I have an indescribable feeling to protect the children in this room. When I was in fourth grade, a friend of mine and I were delivering Girl Scout cookies in my upper-middle class neighborhood. Crime was not a known part of our neighborhood. The worst thing that could happen was the change in your car being stolen at night. This afternoon though, two boys from my neighborhood made a decision that robbed me of my sense of safety. They followed my friend and me and would not leave us alone after repeated requests. In a strange and unforeseeable move, the one boy put a knife to my neck, took the money envelope and ran off. As they ran away, the envelope was dropped to the ground.
In that moment, they stole my sense of safety, my wanting to be myself, ride my bike and explore my – on the surface – beautiful and safe neighborhood. For several years after that, I would not go outside and play. My bicycle sat and collected cobwebs.
The parents of the children involved did not know how to process these events and the situation was mostly glossed over with the one boy having to shovel my parents’ snow covered driveway, while I sat in the house. It made me sick to have him that close. The situation turned ridiculous when the other boy who owned the knife tried to tell us it was a plastic knife, not a real knife. Thankfully, his sister vouched to my mom that it was a real knife that she had bought for him.
I am not proud to admit this but for years I thought about ways to get back at the one boy who still lived in my neighborhood. I was lucky enough to live diagonally across the street from him, so he was never out of sight. I even had an idea that involved a baseball bat and hitting him with it. I was angry, scared and terribly sad that all those years afterward I stayed inside. Physically and mentally.
Those boys made a bad decision but today I choose not to let that decision be a negative presence in my life. I believe they gave me a gift that day. It took me years to feel this way, but I am intact. While mentally they took my sense of safety, they gave me a shot of resilience and a double dose of compassion and street smarts.
My friend and I never talked about that day again. Fourth graders do not know how to proclaim much more besides crying out pain. I hope if she is listening she knows how sorry I am that she was there and experienced that. For those boys, I thank them and hope that day was their last act of carelessness. Careless moments like that can steal someone’s sense of safety and their will to take risks. I believe each person deserves to be treated with a basic level of respect and dignity and when that is not lived out that we take a step back toward behaving as animals. When that does not happen, I believe I have a choice to take a terrible situation, hold onto resilience and make myself stronger.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.