• author
    • Kelvin Wade

    • January 13, 2013 in Columnists

    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.

    • I'm with Cathi on this one. I am cautious but not enough to stop and smell the roses. I have lived by myself for almost 26 years and I have learned there are more nice people than hurtful ones. Caution is a good thing but not exclusively.

    • I have the reverse situation of this. I will sometimes just blindly trust someone, confide in someone, see only the good… and my husband will declare me nuts. However… I'm usually right. I trust my own intuition. I wonder about “that world”…. mine is different from his. I think I'm more like Cathi… I like our world better.

    • I have PTSD and I am extremely hyperalert. However, with that comes paying very careful attention. I would have watched those teenagers (of any color, actually), watched their body language, then probably said something nice–and then watched their reactions carefully. I do remember telling a young African-American teenage boy's mother what a lovely and well-mannered son she had and they both literally jumped in startlement. That makes me infinitely sad–my saying that should not have surprised them. But in the dark, the obvious is obscured. You were right to pay attention. Can one be too careful and wary? Yes. It's a balance. My husband believes too easily and that worries me, but I want to believe people are what they seem, so I at least give them an initial chance. I am actually more at ease with the cranky and blunt than I am with those who are too friendly too quickly. Still, don't startle me. I am not dangerous anymore–unless the person startling me is — that's when that red belt comes into play… 😉

      P.S. I am so glad you and Cathi found each other 🙂

      • Carolyn Wyler

      • January 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm
      • Reply

      I had a situation occur just today where I was running and four young guys stopped me and my first thought was that I needed to run from them. All they wanted to know was directions but I judged them too from their appearance. I thought afterwards that it would make a good column to write about, but you have already done that. I think it's good to be cautious. I tend to be very distrustful of people.

      • Kelvin Wade

      • January 14, 2013 at 11:24 am
      • Reply

      Maya, people who have endured trauma are often hypervigilant. The flight or flight response is triggered pretty easily. I'm sure you understand this well. Cathi has been beneficial to me in that she's very engaging with people. It's motivated me to be that way but I'm still concerned about safety. She often throws caution to the wind. She once wanted to bring a homeless man home and let him live in our office. Wonderful sentiment but we're not doing that. She used to leave her purse in the car, which I didn't think was a good idea. Someone broke into her car one night and stole her purse. So it's a matter of striking the right balance between being trusting and accepting while not setting yourself up to be taken advantage of.

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