Last night, while my husband Paco and I were curled up on the couch watching a movie, our doorbell rang. This was an unusual occurrence, so, before opening the door, I yelled through to ask who it was. It was our neighbor and her teenage son - friendly people with whom we'd had chance encounters while weeding our respective yards.
She shared with me some disturbing news.
Thursday night, her little red truck had been hot-wired and stolen from her driveway. Beyond that, though, she had rung our doorbell to say, "I notice that you all sometimes leave your garage door open (which we had done again last night, accidentally), and I wanted to let you know that, Monday or Tuesday night, your across-the-street-neighbor saw some teenage boys hanging around your house, looking in the windows. As soon as she saw them, she yelled, 'Hey! What are you guys doing over there?' And they ran off."
I felt rattled and a bit violated hearing this. How creepy that people were looking in our windows! So, after hugging our neighbor, thanking her, and saying our goodbyes, I sat with Paco and strategized about what we could do.
"What if we put a sign on our house that says, 'Monitored by Security Cameras'? Maybe that would be enough to ward people off." Paco immediately Googled mini-cameras that link to your cell phone. "We should definitely close all of the drapes every time we leave the house." Paco agreed - plus, he already had some lamps on timers. "Let's be more vigilant about closing the garage door. Oh, and I made the mistake of leaving the side gate open last week. I won't do that again!"
Fear and my inner Defender had taken charge - mentally, physically, and emotionally. My mind was scanning the contents of our home for what they might target and how we could defend ourselves if anyone invaded, my shoulders were tense and raised, and I went to bed with both a flush of anger and spot of concern in my heart.
This morning, I noticed that I was a little bit clingy with Paco and still feeling concerned about the events at our doorstep. I also could relate how I was feeling to people who experience threats of (or actual) violence and violation every day. I empathized with the image of a big, burly man standing in front of his home with a shotgun, believing it to be his only way of protecting himself. No doubt he and others like him have been violated before and never want to experience that pain again.
Fear can be very potent and convincing.
However, though fear and my inner Defender were doing their very best to protect me (and I am grateful for their service), they had also done something far more sinister and destructive: disconnected me from myself and my fellow human beings.
As I noticed this, two things immediately came to mind:
1) I remembered a story I had recently read in the book Hostage at the Table about a grandmother who, through her instant acceptance of and kindness towards a psychopathic murderer poised to kill her and her granddaughter, ended up saving their lives.
2) Then, a voice inside me said: "Fear doesn't keep you safe. Love does."
Instantly, I felt safe again in my own home. More importantly, though, I felt safe again in my own heart.
I know from my work with inmates that the majority of people who commit crimes do so in response to having been deeply wounded themselves. Hurt people hurt people.
No doubt these teenage kids wanting to steal from us have been badly wounded, misguided, and/or violated. Otherwise, they would have no desire to treat others this way.
I will, of course, continue to lock the doors and make sure we close the garage. However, I can do these mindfully - without allowing stress and fear to reign supreme. And, should these teenagers come around again, I won't fear them. Maybe I'll even invite them in for tea, ask about their lives, and find out what they need that I can provide.
Some might think me crazy, but I spent too many years living in fear, and it doesn't work. I would rather live in love and help others do the same.
Fear is here when we need it. It can be a powerful ally that alerts us to potential dangers. However, it also has its blinders and its limits - disconnecting us from ourselves and from each other.
As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently said, "Fear doesn't make us safer. It makes us weaker." Indeed. And, as I gratefully learned this morning:
Fear doesn't keep us safe. Love does.