Tuesday, May 26, 2009

a noise within

A very small, somewhat whimsical incident that happened last night set this blog in motion, and like most of my rambling thoughts, it might take a while for me to link a few ideas together like a string of Christmas lights, but when I finally get around to it, damned if the whole tree don't light up. I'm like that with my epiphanies and the way I share the points I want to get across.

Going to bed last night, I couldn't set aside the nagging thought that maybe I'd set my alarm clock wrong. Setting the alarm clock incorrectly is something I very rarely do, but my sleep has been sketchy lately so maybe I had reason to trust my gut. Either way, I told that nagging little voice inside to kindly shut the hell up so I could go back to sleep, but it wouldn't. Check the alarm clock time and make sure it's correct, it said. Over and over and over again. I tried to reason with it for a while, saying, Look, little naggy neurotic voice, I never, EVER do that, I'm not THAT person, and the light from the alarm clock is going to make it even harder for me to fall back asleep.

At which point Little Nagging Voice became Booming Old Testament Voice and it said JUST CHECK THE FREAKIN' ALARM CLOCK! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BY TRUSTING YOUR INSTINCTS!

So I did. Raise your hands if you know the punchline. My alarm clock was set to 7:40 PM, a rather ineffectual time to get up and go to work. I laughed a little, shook my head in wonder and gratitude for a universe and a gut instinct that looks out for my best interests, re-set the alarm clock and went back to attempting to sleep.

So that's a cute story, and I could leave it at that. But I never really do. Things always tie themselves to other things in my life, unrelated incidents years ago suddenly springing back to life, a bulb on that string of lights flickering back on, and I get to see the big picture about how everything, and I truly mean everything, is connected in this world. That's the beauty and the tragedy and the mystery of it.

And I remember college, taking a Self-Defense for Women's class as part of my PE requirement, totally bored and snotty about it since I already had a first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and I was so sure there wasn't anything else I could be taught about self-defense from women who didn't even know martial arts. I remember reading the number one reason women got attacked. Wasn't the shoes, wasn't the purse, wasn't the car or what clothes a woman was wearing. It was that she doubted her instincts.

You've been there, right? Sure you have. Something's...off. About this person. This situation. It doesn't feel right. I'm not comfortable. And always the choice. Do I make a scene? Risk being the over reactive, crazy one? Walk away? Ask for help? How do I even ask for help? Excuse me, officer, I have a funny feeling about this guy I'm on a date with...

Most women, if they survive an attack, tell people later on that they had a funny feeling. Too busy being polite, they shoved that noise within down and smiled and did what polite society would dictate.

Don't ever do that.

Follow your instincts. Please. Because there are enough bad things that happen in this world that come from that blind spot, totally left field, you never saw it coming. And then there are the bad things that you felt or sensed, long before they ever happened, and they build, almost as if they were inevitable. Bad things are not inevitable. They are a series of small little decisions and you have the right to walk away any time you'd like from a situation that you are not comfortable in.

Here's an amazing story from one of my long-lost friends, one that I've repeated to many people often times, having no idea that years later when we finally reconnected, my friend had blogged about it. And I have a story of my own, about following my instincts, in two different kinds of ways. I'm blessed in that I have fairly good instincts (read: alarm clock) and I'm totally and utterly grateful that the night that this happened to me, I listened to not just myself, but to someone else as well. The man who might have attacked my friend and I.

To make a long story short, my friend and I were coming out of a club in a bad part of London, her totally drunk and me, the sober one, looking out for her. A series of bad decisions on her part (and a total inability, on my part, to control her) lead my friend to follow a man down a dark alley as he promised to find us the nearest bus station. I noticed a few things: the alley, the fact that no one else around seemed particularly interested in our welfare, and a car full of men that the man now leading my friend down a dark alley had nodded to. The sounds going on within my body were less of a noise and more of a thudding, panicked roar. I had no choice but to follow my friend into that alley, gearing up for what I truly believe, to this day, might have ended up being a fight for our lives.

"You ladies sure don't know your way around here, do you," the man said conversationally, and my friend wobbled on my shoulder and I found myself doing the bravest thing I've ever done. I didn't clench my fists with all my Tae Kwon Do skill, I didn't look for a weapon. I looked the man straight in the eyes. His eyes caught mine and his widened. I'm not sure what my face looked like other than grim determination and maybe a glimmer of hope.

"I guess it's a good thing that we have kind people like you around to do the right thing, then," I said. Because even though my instincts were saying THIS IS NOT GOOD WHY AREN'T WE RUNNING LIKE HELL another voice told me to give him a chance to be the person he was trying to become. So I did. It could have ended badly. I don't always recommend giving people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to situations like that. But in this case, the entire situation changed.

He looked at me, and my wobbly friend, and he nodded. Maybe he was coming to peace with what he was about to do, I don't know. He pointed outside the alley and told us where the bus station was (he was telling the truth). And then he turned around and ran like hell, faster than I've ever seen anyone run who's life or a gold medal didn't depend on it, in the opposite direction. My friend celebrated the fact that she had five more minutes to live by throwing up a little. I kind of felt like that too.

We got home safe, and I think about that night in the alley quite a lot. I think about what it means to trust your instincts, what it means to trust other people, where to draw the line. It's a tough call. I don't ever think about what might have happened If. Because when you trust your instincts, the good that unfolds is what seems inevitable. As in, it couldn't have happened any other way because I was listening to myself. And as long as I listen to myself, regardless of what situations I may even end up being wrong or right about, I have no regrets.


krista said...

there is something so powerful in looking someone directly in the eye with KNOWING. i don't know how to describe it...you did it so well. but there is a sort of recognition there and i'm so glad your instinct was able to talk to his conscience.

and HOLY CRAP. could your instinct please talk to mine about setting my alarm properly? my instinct has some sort of clandestine alliance with my pillow going on.

Phoenix said...

My instinct just texted your instinct to meet over coffee for a very stern talking to over not building alliances with comfy pillows or warm down comforters when work has to be done. And thank you for the kind words :)

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