Last week I dined with two old and dear friends, one of whom had been robbed at gunpoint the night before. She and her family were watching television when she heard the unmistakable click of the back door. Could it have been the wind? Curious but not alarmed, she turned to look, and four masked men bounded into the room.
All had guns, and each leveled his gun at the head of one of the family members. Four people who’d been enjoying their time together at day’s end moments before were now held captive by invaders. Pleasure turned to terror.
As my friend said, “It was surreal. I felt like I was in a dream.”
The young men wanted money, not silver or jewelry or electronic devices. Sadly for them, the family had less than $50 in cash between them. After dumping the contents of the two women’s purses, the armed robbers (is there a better term?) retrieved at least one debit card and asked for the PIN. No fool, my friend readily gave it to him, and two of men left for an ATM machine with this promise/threat: “If this doesn’t work, we’re coming back to shoot all of you in the head.”
Held hostage, the family felt powerless. Cell phones had been confiscated and doused with water by this time, making contact with the outside world impossible. Even though they were confident that the PIN would work, the family still felt frightened, especially as they thought of the innocent two-year-old sleeping in a nearby bedroom.
Events took place that must have unsettled the two remaining intruders because they left before their partners returned, taking house keys and the home owner’s car. At least one phone still worked, and someone called 911. Police officers arrived in a matter of minutes. Three of the four men, all under twenty-one, had been apprehended by the time of our luncheon the next day. By that afternoon, the fourth was also in custody.
How could something like this happen in such a seemingly safe neighborhood with pretty lawns and tree-lined streets?
Another friend, Marsha, and I absorbed this story as we dined on salmon atop spinach lunches. Marsha began talking about a recent anniversary trip and delighted us with stories about her adventures, including a ride in hot air balloon. We chatted briefly about two other friends, one in Alaska and one who just returned from a trip to England and Scotland.
Life was good for them—and for us too. We never take that for granted.
The conversation reminded me of stories I’ve read about people in the most adverse of situations who somehow do more than merely soldier on. They laugh, joke, eat, make love, and sing even as bombs explode around them. No matter what exciting, trivial, or funny story came up in conversation, the previous night’s incident was there, hovering over and around and above us. Our dialogue always came back to IT.
No one had mentioned race. I’d pictured four white men brandishing guns. When asked if the thieves were black, my friend hesitated a moment before nodding yes. There was sadness in that nod…and knowing. Knowing that had developed from decades of working with college students and from reading and observing life with a clear eye. A woman of deep faith, she was likely thinking, “All are precious in His sight” even as she relived the terror of the night before.
Horrific things have always gone on, just not this close to home. Otis and I saw The Independent State of Jones last week, and I was sickened by the work of the Klan. I can still feel my involuntarily uptake in breath when I witnessed Mr. Moses’ realization that three white men were following him with taunts and name-calling. They killed him in a cruel, merciless way.
I also reread Elie Wiesel’s Night last week and wondered how the world could stand by and watch. Just watch. Roosevelt knew and I’ve often wondered why he sat on it. Not a political scientist by any stretch of the imagination, there are many things I don’t understand. We were less of a global community then. Now we send troops to places in the world I’d never heard of until now, but then six and a half million Jews and other “undesirables” were killed while the world turned a blind eye.
I have no answers, just the conviction that all lives matter.