It doesn’t take much, honestly. A rustle in the bushes, a strange noise, or even eerie silence. My heart beats rapidly, I shallow my breath. Other than that I pretend that my actions are normal and I’m not scared. But I am. I’m in fear for my safety.
The scene I’m describing is not an unusual one, at least for me.
But tell me, where did you imagine I was? On a dark street in the city? Walking alone in the woods? In New York City or some other unfamiliar place?
It doesn’t happen in the places you would think. I feel this way less in downtown Baltimore than I do in the parking lot of my suburban church.
I grew up in a small city in Kentucky and a suburb of Nashville, there was crime, sure, but it wasn’t widespread. I felt safer outside of my home than inside of it. We never locked our doors, my mom would leave her keys in the car overnight.
Truth is, the people you knew were more dangerous than the people you didn’t. I was abused by people I knew, my sister’s car was stolen by a girl from school who didn’t like her, I was raped in my house by a man I was dating.
I moved to Memphis for college. Outside my dorm that year 4 women were raped between the parking lot and the entrance. I can’t imagine how many more there were inside the dorm that year, but I know in the familiar space between the parking lot, (which was well lit and immediately next to the building) and the door to the dorm, 4 women were – that I heard about.
I would walk around downtown Memphis, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone and feel completely safe.
Why? Because it was unfamiliar.
I’m not talking about the politics or public safety reports of crime and where crime happen, although statistics back me up that most women are abused or raped by someone they know.
I’m talking about a sense of general wellbeing.
Last night I was leaving church after a meeting. As usual, the rest of the group got in their cars and left (although occasionally some may stick around for a parking lot conversation). I have a few night meeting a month, but there isn’t a night of the week our building isn’t used. AA, scouts, a Spanish speaking congregation, a pastoral counseling center, there are almost always people around.
Tuesday’s and Thursday’s are church nights and I was the last one.
So my meeting ended and I went to my office to put things away before heading to my car. My car is parked right outside the door. It is fairly well lit and the church sits on a busy road. Behind the busy road and surrounding the church, however, is woods. A little protected piece of watershed in the middle of suburban sprawl. I like this about our church. It’s beautiful, it’s calming, it’s a mix of country, suburban and city life.
The weather is getting warmer which means the people who sleep outside are starting to need a little less shelter. This has never been a problem. Occasionally someone has lived in the woods, and… Well… It’s the way it is as long as they don’t bother our property. We’ve never had an incident as long as I’ve been there.
But I am always on high alert anyway. Last night I realized why. Because last night we had a great meeting. Last night I led in the ways I’ve been called to and they are responding. Because last night we knew we had hard work ahead of us but we have good leaders, a common vision and help from the Spirit to sustain us.
As I walked to my car something fell into the bushes, or moved. I panicked. My heart raced, I slowed my breath, I walked as if I had noticed nothing to my car.
I got in, shut the door, and turned it on and threw into reverse. I had gone to fast, the car hadn’t had time to actually turn on (stupid electronic start buttons) I calmed myself, the doors were locked. I slowly put the car into park, I turned it on and reversed until the headlights shone in the bush, I saw nothing.
I thought myself ridiculous for a moment, maybe I’d made it up. No, I hadn’t. As I drove home I thought about posting something snotty on the Young Clergy Women’s Facebook page, “I mean, men don’t live in fear like this.” And then I thought better of it. Yes, women are in more danger than men in general, but come on, posting something like that would just be poking a bear.
I have to deal with a bigger issue here, something that I’ve dealt with for years, I am afraid of things that become familiar, when I feel good about things, when I’m happy. Some of us are just like that, it’s years of conditioning. “Stranger Danger” has never really been my issue, it’s the familiar ones who will hurt me most.