(Trigger Warning: There is violent imagery in this essay. No joke)
Coming from love doesn’t make you weak, or less capable of resisting evil. Nope. It actually is the core of willingness to die killing something threatening your family or core values, which is arguably the most powerful and clarifying position in the world, beyond even personal survival.
I’ll tell a story I’ve told before. Many years ago, I had a neighbor (call him “Bob”) whose daughter was a friend of Nicki, we’ll call “Janie”. “Bob” was a nice guy, but there was something strange: he seemed to take some kind of odd offense with me. Challenged me verbally with intense emotions behind it. Seemed to take pleasure sniping at me. Called the police on my dog, and then came over to my house and bragged about it and dropped into a boxing stance to challenge me to fight him. I just sort of shook my head, unable to figure out what the hell I’d done to trigger such a reaction.
I tried to make peace. One day I was at his house, and Bob complained about a bad back. I invited him to come over to my house and use our spa. He gratefully agreed. He came over a couple of hours later in his swim suit, and a folded towel. He asked me to hold the towel for him. What it concealed was…a revolver.
I asked him why he was carrying it. Without blinking he said that he was having trouble with his boss at work. That the man was a terror. And he was SO ugly. And…he looked just like ME.
Oh, shit. Well, isn’t THAT special.
I remember sitting down with Swift Deer at my next Judo lesson, and telling him what was happening. That I felt paralyzed. “I don’t want to hurt Janie’s’ dad.”
Swift shook his head somberly. “And that’s why he’s going to hurt you, brother” he said. “That’s what he’s counting on.”
I was thunderstruck. Swift was right. Whatever was going on with Bob likely had nothing to do with me. But he had focused his anger and fear on me, and my very affection for his family weakened me. ESPECIALLY my affection for Janie, which was enormous. I was frozen: damned if I did, dead or wounded if I didn’t.
I went home that night, brain swimming. What should I do? I couldn’t hurt Janie’s dad. I had to deal with this. But I just couldn’t. My love paralyzed me.
Then a thought crossed my mind, one of those “cubic inches of opportunity” that slide in from the blind spot: HE WAS TRYING TO HURT NICKI’S DAD.
Boom. Something deep inside me bared its teeth. Oh, yes. He was trying to make my daughter an orphan. My wife a widow.
And for some reason…that was TOTALLY different. QUALITATIVELY different.
He was trying to hurt Nicki’s Dad? The hell he would.
So…what was I going to do? I remembered a story I was told by…hmmm…I’ll be just a little oblique here. Let’s say a martial artist friend and instructor of mine who is extremely savvy about the psychology of martial art, science, and sport. Yeah, him.
He told me about a day when a belligerent gentleman came into his school spoiling for a fight. Roaring “I wanna talk to X!” My friend and teacher listened to the ravings, and got very calm. Reached into his desk, and pulled out a loaded 9mm (he is legally permitted to carry). He set it on his desk. Then imagined the man breaking into his office. Imagined himself shooting the man right through the head. Rather dreamily imagined the guy’s brains splashing against the wall, and the body sliding down, death clouding his eyes.
And smiled warmly.
Put the gun away, went out and talked to the guy…who was INSTANTLY as mild as cream.
THAT would be my tactic. I imagined “Bob” swinging on me. And responding with a burst of violence the likes of which he had never dreamed of. Imagined breaking his limbs and curb-stomping him, and thoroughly enjoying the resulting mess. Oh, yes…there is definitely a part of me that enjoyed that imagining. Anyone who really knows me knows it is there, buried deep down, a rabid wolf I’ve been feeding for decades, with the promise that if the justification ever came…I’d let him out.
I warmed myself on that vision of destruction, then went out of my office to my family. Kissed Nicki. Kissed Toni. Patted my dog good-bye. And walked across the street.
Knocked on the door. His wife “Kathy” answered. I said, “hello, Kathy. Is Bob here?”
A little puzzled, she said yes, he was back in his office. “May I speak with him?”
Why sure, come on in. I walked back to Bob’s office, and there he was at his desk. He looked up at me with surprise. I said “Hi, Bob,” and just talked to him for a few minutes, to his slight confusion. Perfectly pleasant conversation. Then I looked at my watch, said: “well, I just wanted to come by and say hello.”
He walked me to the front door, I said good-bye, and left. Weeks later Kathy told me that after I left Bob looked at her and said “You know? That Steven Barnes is really a nice guy.”
AND HE NEVER BOTHERED ME AGAIN. Never. Not once.
Why? Because I had absolute clarity. Was 100% ready to go. The slightest twitch would have triggered it. And on an animal level…HE KNEW. I had left him no uncertainty to exploit. No fear to strike into. No lever to manipulate me.
Ready to die. Ready to take him with me. Hell, I’d said good-bye to my DOG. Can’t get more serious than that.
How? By connecting to what I really, really loved: Nicki. Toni. And my dog, of course. That love swept away all mists of confusion. I might be of several minds about my own safety, but NOTHING will harm my family while I live.
Connect with your love, and you have strength beyond fear. Connect that love to your own inner self, and you change your destiny.
Heartbeat meditation and visualizing the child within me for 20 minutes a day, every morning, is my path. I hope you find yours.
Nothing is stronger than love.