Published: Sep 15, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Sep 15, 2012 09:29 PM
I crest the short hill, my pounding stride crunching the stones on the trail. A young woman, a walking stick in her right hand, sees me and abruptly, immediately turns around she fast-walks her way down a side trail, and disappears.
I slow my stride to a jog, but I feel like stopping. I have just frightened a woman simply by my presence, and the reason is because I am a male.
Even from a distance I could see the sudden, changed reaction. I could see her fear. I do not blame her. But Im saddened by her fear of me. She doesnt know that I am a man who has been married for 32 years; a father of a 22-year-old daughter; a family man who adores and cherishes his family.
She doesnt know that I wouldnt harm her; she only knows that she is alone on a trail with an unknown man coming her way.
I am tolerant of her fear. I slow down. I take a different trail in Duke Forest. I let the young woman escape.
For days afterward I think of this young woman, and her fear. What causes a woman to see a man a man she doesnt know some 50 yards away and swiftly turn about solely out of some perceived fear.
More importantly, what sort of world have we created where on a beautiful day a woman walking alone in the woods is frightened by the sight of a man?
Come back, I want to say to her now. I will not hurt you.
In the late summer of 1971 I ride on the handlebars of a bicycle ridden by a boy two years my age.
We need to pick a fight, he said. You need to pick a fight. You need to fight Don.
Yeah, I said, repositioning myself on the handlebars. I didnt want to pick a fight. But I wanted to do what Steve wanted me to. I wanted to prove something to him.
Don was with some other boys, ninth-graders, like me. Steve pedaled hard up to them and I hopped off the bike and quickly faced my would-be foe. Steve urged me. He taunted me. It wasnt much of a fight, just some pushing and shoving, no fists were actually swung.
In the end we parted, and I felt like I had faced something; yet I also felt sick to my stomach, this machismo, this code that forced me to prove my masculinity. It would be my last fight.
This is another story.
My father gave me a BB gun when I was 12. I took the gun out on a winter day when the snow in Michigan was two-feet high. At first I shot at Stop signs; then I aimed at a small bird high up in a tree. Perched on a limb, it chirped away. I never expected to hit it; the bird was so small, and so far away. But when it fell from its height, aimlessly like some crazed missile, and landed at my feet, I was immediately bereft.
I looked at the bird, hoping it was only stunned. I picked it up, begged it to wake up. But it was dead. I remember, even now, the sickened feeling I had of taking a life. I buried the bird in the backyard. I put the BB gun in the closet and never picked it up again.
What does all of this mean?
Franz Kafka created a world in which man (men) fought against irrational forces, sometimes in violent ways. Mostly his characters were confused and baffled about what to do, though it could be said they wanted to do what was right. It could be said, too, that men inform other men in ways that often are wrongheaded and stupefying.
Science tells us that there is a fight or flight response to fear. If one is not being pursued by the world, or carried off by it, one is running after it. We are either the pursuer or the pursued. Only an immensity of goodness can overcome this the movement toward justice and grace.