I am inspired by the outreach that I have had on my blog, in personal emails and in conversations I have had with people since my last post. People have been sharing with me their experiences with people choosing action over apathy. I am grateful, my heart is warm and I wish to share a very personal story with you all now, too.
When I was 18 years old, I was invited to an end-of summer lifeguard party at the Opera House in Toronto. Fun right? Cute guys, right? I arrived a bit late with a girlfriend, so after a quick turn of the place to find our friends, we wasted no time in hitting the dance floor.
I made my way out on to the crowded floor and found my spot, then turned to face my friend. Instead of her, stood a teeny little maniac I’d never seen before who hauled off and punched me in the eye. Hard. Her diamond ring cut the skin above my eye (I still have the scar). I just stood there. It happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to cover my face for the second, third, fourth and fifth punches. Let alone the wherewithal to strike back.
I was dimly aware that a circle had formed around us to watch this bloody debacle. The punches all landed on the left hand side of my face, for good reason. I had caught the eye of a guy watching and was having a mute conversation with his eyes: “You’re a LIFEGUARD for God’s sake! Can’t you see I am getting pummeled here? GET THIS CRAZY B*!#^H OFF OF ME”.
“No”, his eyes said, quite simply.
After what seemed like an eternity, a friend pulled her off of me and I ran out. I stumbled, bleeding and blind out of one eye down the street.
I sat down on the curb and held my face, blood streaming down my arm. I sobbed, and felt as cold as I ever had in my life. Shock, I guess.
I heard heavy footsteps approach me. Several. But I was so spent, I couldn’t even be bothered to look up and kept my head in my hands, eyes trained on the blood droplets on the pavement.
Huge boots surrounded me. Six pairs. In front, beside me, and behind me. Men’s boots. A gang, I assumed. I remember thinking: “go ahead, do worse…I can’t feel a thing”.
When no one said a word, I finally looked up. Into the deep dark eyes of a young man staring at mine. I remember nothing about his face. Just his eyes. We said nothing for a minute. Fear completely had a grip on me.
I don’t remember exactly what he said to break the silence, but it was something kind. I sputtered and bawled the whole sordid story of getting the snot kicked out of me, how I had left my purse back at the Opera House, how I didn’t know where my friends were and had no idea how I was going to get home.
Before I knew it, he had his friends mobilized. Within minutes, I was handed a warm wet cloth to clean my face, my friends were on their way to me, a cab had been hailed and I had a 20 dollar bill in my hand.
I have no idea if I had the presence of mind to thank those young men. I pray that I did.
Mere weeks after that incident, I was to start university. The idea of 50,000 strangers, huge throngs of bodies at every gathering had me completely unhinged. I had never been afraid of crowds…I sure as hell was now.
I went to a friend’s cottage for a couple of days after the incident to heal, be away from prying eyes (my face was a wreck), calm down…and to decide if I could actually, really go to university, or if I should take a year off. And how to really BE with what had happened.
Getting beaten up by a woman smaller than me, at a LIFEGUARD party of all places…none of it made any sense to me, and it all seemed certain to repeat itself at every gathering.
At best: strangers = apathetic. At worst: strangers = violent.
I realized, of course, that that line of thinking had me trapped in a victim mentality. Sure, I could spend my days choosing to feel sorry for myself, raging against that vile woman, and being despondent about that lifeguard who was held immobile by his interest in watching a one-sided catfight. OR, I could choose to soften and really BE with what those young men had done for me.
I chose the latter.
Yes, there are violent people who want to hurt others for reasons known only to them. And then there are the rest of us. Those who want to help. To heal. To nurture. To protect.
Those six guys certainly didn’t need to help me. They could have walked on and not bothered. They could have done any number of things differently. They sure didn’t need to give me money, help, kindness.
Yet they did. Because they were the rest of us.
And so, off I went to university a month later: I reveled in meeting the strangers (one who became my husband); whooped it up; learned lots; and, wasn’t afraid. Not once.
So those six guys I want to say:
“Thank you for caring for a fellow human being that August night nineteen years ago. It helped solidify my fundamental belief that people are inherently good. Your selfless acts of kindness continue to make me want to be a kinder person too. I will be forever grateful.”
And you? What story lives in your heart as proof of innate goodness in our society? Who do you wish to thank?