A few years ago, I was attacked in a parking lot. It was 10AM at a busy restaurant at a bustling intersection with lots of Saturday morning breakfast activity happening all around me. Due to the popularity of the restaurant I was leaving, I had had to park in the next lot over upon my arrival. My hands filled with the bags of my to go order and my wallet securely, or so I thought, clutched underneath my arm, I exited the restaurant from a side door and immediately made eye contact with a complete stranger appearing to be walking across the same parking lot to the bus stop on the other side. He was tall and thin and black and even though it was a balmy 80 degrees out, he was wearing a red hoodie with the hood pulled way down low.
Every single fiber of my being told me to walk right back in to that restaurant until this stranger had made his way to the bus stop. I promise you, it was like I heard a loud and audible voice screaming “Danger! Stop! Turn around!” It was so loud, in fact, that I did pause for a minute and look behind me to see who had yelled. When no one was there I decided I was being paranoid/racist/timid/silly and made my way through the parking lot, around the corner of the building and had my hand on my car door’s handle when I felt someone grab me from behind. I looked down and all I could see was the red sleeves of his hoodie wrapped completely around my body. The rest happened both somehow in slow motion and rapid fire. I remember hearing screaming and thinking, “Man. Someone is losing their shiz right now.” And then I remember realizing that it was me losing my mind. You never know how you will react in situations like that until you are in one. I, apparently, am a big fan of playing dead…a screaming dead corpse, if you will. I doubled over and curled into a ball and hit the ground. This did two things, it shifted all my weight front and center, which caused my attacker to land on top of me (I would really like to believe that I turned out to be waaaaay more than this guy bargained for) and it clamped my wallet even further into my armpit, which it turned out was the source of all this mayhem. The guy wanted my wallet. It took me about 3 seconds of laying on the ground, curled up into a ball, with him on top of me to realize that was what he wanted and so I released everything. I gave up and relaxed…as much as you can relax in a parking lot with a strange man on top of you. He snatched up my wallet and took off across the parking lot.
Because it was, in fact, 10AM on a Saturday morning at one of the busiest and craziest intersections in our city, I was very much not alone. Before I could even stand up, help came from all directions. It turned out a woman had entered the parking lot at the same minute I had exited the restaurant and said later that a voice inside her told her to watch me make it all the way to my car. She saw the guy follow me and then grab me and she came running to my rescue. The parking lot where my car was parked was in the lot of another busy breakfast spot and two house painters about to embark on a new job that morning happened to be sitting right next to a huge window overlooking my car. When they saw the guy grab me, they went flying out of the restaurant, just in time to chase him up and down one of the busiest streets in Orlando. They chased him all the way down the block, where he ran smack into the patrol car that had just been alerted to my attack and those two painters got to tackle him down to the ground and probably fulfill every man’s dream of being the hero. They did, in fact, return to their breakfast spot to a room full of applause and a breakfast on the house. The guy went to jail for a while. And then he was sentenced to anger management therapy and released.
Here is why I tell you this crazy, amazing, surreal story: After this event, I have known fear like I never thought I would. This moment changed my life. This all happened when Levi was about six months old and therefore completely incapable of being at all helpful in getting himself in and out of his carseat. From this moment on, having to have my back turned to a parking lot while I got him buckled or unbuckled became my worst nightmare. Pumping gas? Forget it. Parking lots in general were suddenly the instigators of huge panic attacks. I would sit in a parking lot for what felt like hours working up the courage to get out of the car and into my destination. More than four years later this episode still haunts me. When life gets real stressful, I wake up in a cold sweat, screaming my head off at an unknown assailant. My poor husband has woken up more times than I can count to me beating the tar out of him because I’m convinced there’s a predator in my bed.
Even though this event happened years ago, and I have made great strides in healing from it, and am still making great strides, I can feel the presence of fear lurking around my life. It rears its ugly head when events such as what happened in our city a month ago and what happened in Dallas a week ago and what happened in Nice last night occur. Before that parking lot, fear was simply something that came up at Halloween or in a scary movie. It wasn’t real. It didn’t dictate how I lived my life and where I park my car. It was kind of silly and completely my own choice to feel fear.
We tell ourselves and our kids often that there is nothing to be afraid of. We remind ourselves that there are no such thing as monsters and nothing is hiding in the dark. And you know what? That’s valid. Terrorism thrives on fear and when we give in to our fears we let them win. But here’s the thing: Its ok to feel afraid, too. Fear is a natural reaction to danger and we live in a dangerous world. We are raising our kids in a dangerous world, somehow even more dangerous than the one we grew up in.
But. BUT. We keep fighting even though we are scared. We say to our fear, “Yep. I feel you breathing down my neck, trying to keep me locked inside this car. But life is happening out there. So back down.” For a while after the parking lot, I tried to combat my fear with logic. I took a self-defense class. I made better decisions about where I parked my car. And I vowed that if I ever heard my Spirit yell at me to duck back into a building, I would hightail it back in, no matter how stupid I felt. And this worked for a while. Until the nightmares started. Because my brain and my heart, they needed me to talk about the fear for a while. They needed me to acknowledge it and look at it full in the face. They needed me to tell the story and admit to the people that love me when I was feeling vulnerable and panicky in a parking lot. When I speak my fear into existence, it loses its grip on me. Fear doesn’t go away completely. In fact, fear can keep us safe when we listen to it. But it doesn’t get to rule our lives. It can tell us where to park the car, but it can’t keep us locked inside of it.
I feel afraid after Pulse and Dallas and Nice. My sense of safety has been compromised and I’ll bet yours has to. And it is ok to be afraid. Its ok for your kids to be afraid. Let’s talk about our fears with our kids. Let’s remind them that fear can only hold you captive when you try to hide it under a rock. Bring the fear to the light and dare it to hold you back. Because, after all, “Perfect love drives out all fear.” And from what I’m hearing from the ones refusing to let fear win, love is what will save the day.