Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Everyday Hero

Another playdate at the park. My girlfriend and her two, me and mine-- we were having a great time. The children had eaten lunch and were climbing in the thick, gnarled rhodedendron bushes, strong enough for them and at a perfect height for the comfort of mothers. It was relatively quiet, the boys were happy and nearby a younger man was walking with an older man who seemed to have some sort of disability, a caregiver and his client, out for a stroll. Over our chatting, I could hear an  unseen voice from the dog off-leash area, just through the bushes and across the path and a bit beyond more bushes. The voice was calling for their dog, but I paid no mind--until a brown four-legged creature tore through the bushes and ran up to my girlfriend's young child. 

The dog wasn't fierce, but it was moving fast toward the child and heck, the kid did what most people would do when faced with an animal their own size-- he screamed. To me, this is a natural reaction-- heck, when dogs bound out of the bushes and run at me, I yell.  And so, even though I could hear that voice calling for their dog, I did what many a mom would do-- I yelled "You need to get your dog!" The dog turned around, ran at me, growled and then bounded off. "Come get your dog!" I called out again.

I couldn't see what was coming, or I never would have yelled. Bursting through the bushes was a furious man, who began screaming at me. He seemed to think we were the problem-- us. Was he on drugs or out of his mind? Mental health issues? I had no idea, but there he was, shouting at me.  I was incredulous and told him not to yell at me in front of the kids. He continued anyway, because "you're yelling at my dog." Then he was just raving, screaming at us that we were in the wrong because we were "near the off-leash area" and rambling.  I could see there was no reasoning with him-- when my girlfriend spoke calmly and reasonably to him, he just kept shouting angrily. She said later that she didn't think he could even differentiate that she and I were two entirely different people. 

Fortunately, fortunately-- he left. I was scared half out of my wits, but had mostly been watching to make sure the kids were okay and that the dog was going away. And then, I heard the angry man again, talking heatedly. I didn't look over, but my girlfriend could see what was happening-- the young man had stopped this incredibly angry man and was telling him he was wrong. He was standing up for us-- women and children he didn't even know--and helping us stand our ground from over 30 feet away or so. Eventually, the angry man took his dog back up to the off-leash area and the children continued their play--other than the littlest, who'd  been terrified and then comforted, the kids hadn't seemed too upset. Nonetheless, I was pretty rattled and my guard was up. For the rest of our time there, I kept an eye out and saw the dog and another running around everywhere as they pleased, in and out of the off-leash area. When we finally walked back up to the play park, we passed a picnic bench where the angry man was pointing us out to his friends and talking loudly.

I really hate these sorts of goings on. I hate having this sort of weird experience at a place I've always felt a sense of community ownership of, a place where my neighbors and I can call ours. My girlfriend says she considers this park somehow like Times Square or New York City... there's all kinds, living--usually-- around each other, aware of each other, but not necessarily in each others faces, contentiously. Perhaps that's true--our city's homeless population has nowhere to go during the day but the parks. While downtown is busy patrolling and pushing the great unwashed out of the business district, so as not to bother shoppers, these unfortunate folks end up where women and children gather. It's amazing that we, the more vulnerable population, is far more tolerant of those who are mentally ill than those who have more power. 

What struck me so deeply afterward, however, was the one young man who stood up for us. He was caring for another individual and was vulnerable too, just because of that. He could have looked away, walked on, concerned that his client would be upset, but he didn't. He stayed and stood our ground for us. The park was ours, not the bully's. We had the right to be there, we weren't the problem. Thinking about this last night brought tears to my eyes. Things could have gone much worse than they did, but this brave man was willing to be a witness, to call out the wrong when he saw it and not let it go any further. 

We didn't ever have a chance to thank him. Maybe I'll go put up a sign in the park this weekend, I don't know... but his kindness and true valor won't be forgotten. It takes more guts to stand up to those who would yell and intimidate than it does to do the yelling and intimidating. So, thank you so much, those of you who take a minute to defend those more vulnerable, even if it's through writing a letter to an official when you notice injustices or signing a petition to right a wrong committed against the innocent. This is what we want to cultivate and nurture in our children, isn't it? A sense of what's right and the conviction to live that belief.   We don't always have champions like this young man, but our everyday hero gives me hope that what's good about our town, our community, isn't going to be lost anytime soon.

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