Friday, December 08, 2006

My Own Web Of Trust

(Please read Bill Whittle's wonderful essay below first. Though I'll never even approach echoing his beautiful words, I have had a ghost of the same experience--enough to know that he speaks the truth:)

You Have To Get Close To the Knife

After reading Bill Whittle's wonderful essay on trust, I couldn't imagine having a moment of panic and life-threatened fear like that in my life. However, in telling my sister about it, and reading his piece to her, I realized that that was not so; I HAD had a moment like that--and every word Bill wrote it true. You have to kick it's ass.

In about 1988, I was working in a group home with autistic and emotionally disturbed teenagers. This was a group that acted out--and on a daily basis. We governed and taught the boys using principle of behavior modification/positive reinforcement and extinguishing negative behaviors.

There was a 14 year old boy named Arlen. I did not know him well. He was as tall as I was--and about as big--and he was, by turns, slick, manipulative, needy and confused. Unstructured Sunday afternoon was a popular time for cooking up some nonsense. Favorite activities included locking the blind kid in the closet, swiping candy from the local 7-11, and sneaking out to diners wherein they'd order a meal, eat it, and then play the-poor-retarded-kid-didn't-realize-he-had-to-pay-for it (and didn't bring any money) routine. It didn't usually get any worse than that, maybe some food or dishes thrown. We occasionally got bitten, hit, or scratched.

But Arlen was a step or two smarter than most of the others; he'd been in the system. One such Sunday he and his roommate, Jerry, thought they'd cook up something. I didn't know what it was but, I'd worked there for a coupla years and had good instincts. I called for a time out; Jerry and Arlen needed to spend some time apart. I sent Arlen to the livingroom to watch basketball with everyone else, and sent Jerry upstairs to find something to do. I sat on the stairs to prevent a regroup by the two, for which Arlen angrily nagged.

Instead of going to the livingroom, however, Arlen strolled into the kitchen and, in two seconds flat grabbed a 14 inch butcher knife. And, in 2 seconds flat, I had instrument failure at 30,000 ft. Such fast fear steals every breath you've ever had (it's so palpable, I can feel it to this day in the retelling.) But Bill's right; you not only have to kick it's ass--you have to take the fear completely outside of yourself and not even look at it. (You sure as hell can't think about it. If Bill couldn't think of JFK Jr., I couldn't think of Freddie Krueger.)

In that maybe 2 seconds that I came off the stairs and sprinted into the kitchen, Arlen raised the knife over my head to slash at my face. I knew I couldn't let him out of the kitchen. The gal I worked with said "Come on Donal, we can't handle this"--and she ran off. I was all that stood between that boy and the 6 other boys. I was all that stood between Arlen and himself. I knew whatever I did that day would be a large part of Arlen's future; it might be a large part of mine.

In that two seconds I had, fighting with my older brother growing up taught me that I had to move in. I had to get close to him. It's one thing to be able to move a butcher knife 3 inches--it's quite another thing to have the full swing of your arm behind it, and the weight of a deliberate move. I had to get close to the knife.

As he slashed towards me, I grabbed this arm on the downswing before it got to me those 4-5 times. I jammed his body into a niche between the stove and refrigerator. I pinned the knife to his side with the weight of his body where he could not swing it. We stayed that way for the full 40 minutes it took for my supervisor to arrive. She came and we stayed pinned for another 20 minutes until an hour of unmoving boredom--and the prospect of it's continuation into the night--with the suggestion he talk about what was bothering him rather than use the cutlery to express himself, made him drop the knife at my feet.

I said "you want a bottle of pop, hon?" We sat at the table to talk. And that was it.

And it is about trust. I had to put my fear completely away, and trust I knew what was going on, trust I could handle it--and by myself. I had to trust my instincts enough to not let him out of the kitchen, trust that perhaps he was not a slasher as much as simply acting out, trust that moving in close was the right thing to do, trust that his--hopefully--small experience with such a large weapon would give me the instant or two I needed before he could summon a short swift jab or hold the knife so that I might be impaled.

I had the moment between seeing the knife in his hand and when I came off the stairs in which to make up my mind; I was already at a safe distance. I had a second to decide if I fought him now--or if I faced a worse fight later--perhaps with injuries, or even a hostage or the police. How I handled it would determine if it happened again. It never did.

*** *** ***
The crescent knife of Islam is at America's throat. How we handle it will determine if it keeps happening. Rather than run from it, thinking we can't handle it, with nancy-boy, prettied up consensus-saying-nothing-study-group-reports disguising our gutlessness, instead, we have to get close to the knife.


Anonymous day said...

Very nice, also. I like the way you tied it to Islam.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous cassie said...

Wow, how'd find the courage to stay there when that girl ran away?

2:24 PM  
Blogger VerityINK said...

I don't know. You either have it, or you don't. When the girl I worked with said 'run', I knew I could do that--but then what? How far can you run from your own cowardice?

And having run once, do you think it would be easier or harder to go back in the room--after he's already seen that he had you cowed?

I had to fight the fight then, right off, before it would be self-reinforcing, before others were involved--maybe even the cops. It could have turned into an ugly incident that could've landed him in a situation where he was back in juvi--learning how to be a worse criminal? Learning to hate himself into doing it again, so he could be punished?

No, the thing couldn't get worse--and I was the only one there between me and the boys I loved. He wasn't gettting out of the kitchen, one way or the other.

2:34 PM  
Blogger The Merry Widow said...

Cassie- The brave don't think of themselves as brave, but of doing the necessary! It doesn't matter wheither it's a Dad with cancer getting up and going to work, because his family needs to eat, it doesn't matter if it's the oldest child learning how to run a house because Mom's sick or dead, it doesn't matter if it's the firefighter running into Tower 1 because there are people who need to be rescued, it doesn't matter if it's the big brother who runs back into the burning house to grab a little sister. The faces of courage change, the circumstances requiring bravery change, but the heart that sees the need and goes in anyway is the Heart of Christ WHO rescued us at the cost of HIS Own!


2:35 PM  
Blogger VerityINK said...

P.S. Sometimes, you know yourself well enough to know that you couldn't live if you walked out of something. Sometimes, you just have to stay because you know you couldn't survive the self-hatred and failure you'd feel all the rest of your life.

Even if you die.

2:41 PM  
Blogger VerityINK said...

Or how about the woman, widowed at an early age--seeing it coming from afar--and STILL being their through a wonderful man's death--and then having the bravery, the courage to put that grief in God's hands and get about the job, the necessary job, of leading a Godly life and raising his children in joy?

There's lots of kinds of courage.

2:43 PM  
Blogger VerityINK said...

Like I said--How far can you run from your own cowadice? THAT'S what I would have been running from--and not just that day.

One thing Bill didn't really go into was that his friend and girlfriend were along on that ride he took. I'm sure his fear of killing them was upper most in his mind--even moreso than his own death--and that those thoughts made him put his fear away and solve the problem.

How you get to the point of being able to 'kick it's ass', is you have to get mad. I was mad he'd do such a stupid thing that so thoughtlessly put us all in danger. Bill was mad his mind couldn't figure it out what was going on.

Anger is a tool given to us by God--a tool--it can clear the mind most amazingly!

I love the story Brooke told about the guy in the news who was climbing in windows grabbing women. She said he'd be a dead SOB if he'd tried that with her! I laughed because, no shrinking violets her and I, I said the same thing! That would make me so damn mad, I'd scratch his eyes out before I could get to my gun!

2:58 PM  
Blogger The Merry Widow said...

Sometimes it's just you have no choice, if you don't who will? If you run, who else gets killed? You just don't get to wig out of life!
I'll bet that's why Teddy K. is an alcoholic, he ran, she died, and now he dies a little everyday!
The old saying that a coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave man dies but once, maybe what it's saying is that a brave person faces death at that moment, but the coward lives with regret and might have beens for the rest of their miserable lives!


4:17 PM  
Blogger VerityINK said...

Exactly--you summed it up very nicely! Yes, you could say when the girl ran off, I looked around the room and I was the only one left! LOL!

4:41 PM  
Blogger VerityINK said...

I remember, in one notable sermon, that the pastor talked about Jesus' trip to the cross, and how it hadn't been an easy one to be called thusly. That surely, it being foretold, Jesus knew it would happen, and to allow it, go to it willingly and not run away was a manful choice. HE did not wig out on his destiny--and people forget it was not an instant, joyful choice for him.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Bobcat said...

This is beatiful, Donal. I'm rapidly getting to be a fan of yours!

4:57 PM  
Blogger VerityINK said...

Why, thank you, Bobcat! Please come here anytime!

5:38 PM  
Blogger JINGOIST said...

DONAL that was a great story!That took real courage.


7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Donal,that was a close call,God was watching out for you that day. Off hand,I can't remember any such experience like that on my part,I've never worked in that field as you did. I do know from those who have faced life and death on a daily basis,soldiers that is,is that if you stay afraid,fear will eventually paralize you,mentally and phyiscaly,in which case you'll most surely be dead or at the least ineffectual. In your case then and thankfully for you,you acted to confront Arlen,i.e your fear and the self=preservation kicked in. It did so because above all else,even as a trained mental-health professional,you've a right to be unharmed and a responsibility to Arlen,although he didn't realize that or care at that moment. Maybe you didn't realize it at the time Donal but what you did in moving off those stairs toward Arlen instead of running away was you had knowingly or unwittingly done what soldiers in combat did-- you decided you were dead already,in others words,in a flash,you put away the indulgence of deciding wether or not to be scared. Had you run away,as your friend did,that meant you still would have believed there was a hope to live another day and decide again what to do about ''fear''. To navel-gaze in other words. You crossed the Rubicon of fear there Donal,no small feat. Remember though,it does pay to be cautious,fear is also natures way of sometimes telling us,like it did our cave-dwelling ancestors,"You're going to need a bigger stick''Know what I mean. As to Islamofacism,yes the knife is getting close.What to do about it though,to our leaders seems less clear then what you did that day. If only they had your pluck.I always knew there was something speical about you,"The Sage 'o' Seattle'' and now I know why. You're one speical gal,that why I love ya,thats why we all do:-) Johnnymac.

7:33 AM  
Anonymous z said...

I like the way you tied it to Islam, but I like also how you tied it to Christ's last walk....knowing he had to do it...and to SAVE LIVES!

Imagine how many kids you saved that day by not leaving the kid with the knife with them.

Amazing job, D......I wonder if all of us has that courage. And I pray I'll never be tested. Although it must be wonderful to know you passed with 'flying' (Bill's piece is GREAT, by the way) colors!!

8:06 AM  
Blogger VerityINK said...

J'MAC--I'm totally in awe of a man like you that can write such beautiful things so effortlessly. You have such a unique ability to touch people's hearts with your words and change the way they feel about themselves. Thank for your lovely tribute, it brought tears to my eyes. I'm completely humbled by your loyalty and devotion. I return it to you a hundred times over with my heart.

10:34 AM  
Blogger VerityINK said...

ZinLA--You, too, are such a dear, giving spirit. You have such love and joy in you--it always comes out. Thank you for your kind words to me; I always feel better after talking with you! (I think everyone does! You're just that special a person!)

10:38 AM  
Blogger VerityINK said...

P.S. And, yes, I've always been fascinated with the life Jesus led while here on earth--the human side of Him. It started when my 8th grade art teacher gave us all a picture--of Jesus LAUGHING. Up to then, I'd only seen traditional dour, pious pictures of Him that were so common in the sixties (fifties, really) but seeing one of Him laughing brought home the human side of Him to me in a way nothing else did.

To think of Jesus having a difficult road to the cross--even anger over it, or doubt, wanting to rebel against a death at 33--was an idea that never occured to me. Hear the pastor talk about it made Him human to me once again.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Sis said...

Hey, Sis...I remember that day. You were great. You did all the right things. You stomped your fears immediately and took charge. You are a role model for all of us. I, for one, love you dearly and look up to you.

3:01 PM  
Blogger The Merry Widow said...

Donal- Having your Sis call you a role model is BIG stuff! Sounds like she might, kinds love ya!

3:36 PM  
Blogger VerityINK said...

Oh how sweet! She's at work--I didn't know she snuck that in! How nice! She's the dearest person in the world to me and I love her so much!

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