Autumn has descended at last. The heat of summer has slowly, stubbornly given way to the cool of autumn. The long summer days have surrendered to evenings that come too early, nights that linger lazily before yielding to dawn. Most days I find myself outside long before the sun has shown its face, running through darkened streets—my morning ritual. My mind works better when my body has been pushed.
Three vignettes, three glimpses through my early-morning eyes.
As dawn breaks I run across a lonely parking lot, cutting a long corner. As I pass a building, a depot of some kind, I spot a young woman walking. She must be going to the neighborhood I’ve come from. Our paths will cross. She’s eighteen, maybe nineteen. As I come closer her eyes search mine and ask, “Are you going to hurt me? Am I safe?” “Hurt you?” I hear my mind say. “I’m called to love, to love you more than I love myself. How could I ever hurt you?” I’m grieved that the world is this way, that the world has become this way. I smile what I hope is an assuring smile and nod as I pass by.
Pitch darkness lit only by sporadic street lights and occasional headlights. I run one of my new routes, down a brutal hill and back up, down and up again until I’m too tired to go on. A woman, in her fifties perhaps, is on the sidewalk ahead of me. I approach her, the hill’s steep grade propelling me almost to a sprint. She hears or senses me coming, she clutches something in her hand, her body tenses, flinches a little. I think, “I won’t harm you. I would never harm you. I live by an ethic that says that I need to be willing to die for you even though I don’t know you.” Between breaths I say, “Good morning!” as cheerfully as I can. I continue down the hill and by the time I loop back she is gone.
I am far down a lonely walking path, a brilliant running path, forest on both sides. A teen girl approaches on her bike. She’s all alone, far from anyone but me. She sees me. She digs into her pedals, urging her bike to go just a little bit faster. I see what looks like uncertainty in her eyes. Or is it fear? I think it’s fear. “Are you going to hurt me?” they ask. “I would never hurt you. I’d die before I’d hurt you.” I step far aside to let her by, I smile, I say hello. I find myself hoping, praying, she gets safely to wherever she is going.
I hate the fear I see, I hate the questions their eyes ask me, but I don’t begrudge them. I don’t—can’t—know their wariness, their fear. I get to run confidently in the darkness, without backward glances, without ears pricked. But from all I hear, all I know, all I’ve read, their fear is well-earned and their questions legitimate. I have a privilege they do not, a privilege I take for granted.
I’m haunted by words from Karen Swallow Prior. A tweet: “Running on a deserted road today I came upon unfamiliar vehicle pulled over, trunk open, man standing next to it, waving to me. Called 911.” An article: “I was running uphill on a two-mile stretch of a private, uninhabited dirt road when I saw an older model car with an out-of-state plate parked up ahead. A man was leaning against the car smoking a cigarette. Quickly, I pulled my phone from the pack that holds all my necessaries and called my mother, whom I knew to be home. I stayed on the phone with her as I ran a wide berth around the man and his car.” I could stop to offer help. I could run by without making a phone call. Without fear. But she can’t. They can’t. I hate it. I hate that it has to be this way.
But it does have to be this way because ever since our first parents were ushered out of that garden, men have proven their willingness to violate trust, to misuse strength, to blaspheme God’s good order. Not all men, of course. But some men. Enough men. Strength that was given to protect has been used to destroy, what was meant to bless has been used to harm. It has left this trail of fear, this trail of hurt, this trail of devastation.
Brothers, look and you will see. And when you see you are on your way to acknowledging and perhaps even gaining a glimmer of understanding—the fear is there, the fear is real.