So everyone’s not out to get me?
It was April 1997 and I was on the first date with a woman I’d met online named Cathi. We’d had a four or five hour dinner where the conversation flowed like a river and we were standing beside her car in the dark parking lot locked in a passionate embrace. I had her wrapped in my arms trying to shield her from the cold night air while we kissed, talked and kissed some more. Every so often I’d look around and she didn’t know what I was doing. It was late at night in a darkened parking lot and I was making out with a woman. We were uniquely vulnerable and I wanted to make sure we were safe.
From the time we first met sixteen years ago to now, I’ve been the cautious one. When I met her she would sometimes sleep with her front door unlocked. I quickly changed that. I’m the guy who worries if she’s in the bathroom a long time and will ask if she’s okay. I am concerned about safety.
But maybe I’m too concerned.
A couple of years ago I was walking through an apartment complex on the way to see a friend. I was carrying a bag that held my iPad, cell phone and digital camera. Even though I’m a big black man fully capable of protecting myself, I found myself racially profiling them. I was on über guard, ready to throw hands if need be.
As we passed and nodded a greeting, I heard their conversation. They were discussing the Marbury vs. Madison Supreme Court ruling of 1803 in which the court asserted a new power of judicial review. I was horrified that I suspected the worst and they were just three high school kids discussing a class.
Would I have been concerned had they been three white teenagers? I hope so. Knowing me I would’ve been cautious just because that’s my nature.
Recently Cathi called me and recounted what she felt was a wonderful story. She was dressed nicely for a meeting at work and had to stop off to get gas on the way. A decently dressed man walked up and asked her if she’d like him to pump her gas. She did. He stood back so she could swipe her card and enter her pin and then he proceeded to pump the gas and chat with her. When he finished, she thanked him and he went on his way. She thought it was such a nice thing for someone to do.
I was horrified. I told her she shouldn’t let any strange man pump her gas. She told me that she was never close to the man and he seemed genuine. She said she kept her cell phone in her hand and her wallet was in the car. There were other people around. After all of my questions, she softly said, “I thought it was a wonderful thing by a Good Samaritan and now I regret that I told you.”
The disappointment in her voice ate at me. She wanted to share something special that had happened and I took it away from her and made it something suspicious. After all, Cathi has heard all of my advice about how to be safer and has taken a lot of it.
Hypervigilance is a reaction, or should I say overreaction, to trauma. People who have felt powerless to prevent some horror in their past find themselves driven to make sure such tragedies are prevented in the future. So I know where my need to keep those around me safe comes from.
It’s my task to learn to let go. I have to ease up by internalizing the lesson that I can’t control everything. And when things do go wrong, as they inevitably will in a world filled with natural disasters, imperfect inventions and 7 billion flawed individuals with free will, I’m not responsible. I can’t control everything, which is a frightening concept to a control freak like me.
Secondly, Cathi is teaching me that sometimes you have to take a chance. You have to risk being vulnerable. You have to risk in order to discover the sweet gifts life has to offer.
A man offered to help a woman do a grimy job so she wouldn’t get her hands or clothes dirty and wanted nothing in return. She leaves the situation with an affirmation that there are good people in the world.
I saw a potential criminal or scam artist and missed the beauty that Cathi saw. I’m going to try my best to work to not be so suspicious because, given the choice, I’d rather live in Cathi’s hopeful world.