There are moments that have the gravitas to redefine us. Usually, we think of these moment as shining, beautiful moments, but sometimes they are ugly, evil moments that to shake us to core and threaten to undermine the things we once called certain.
It was day six of our ninety day traveling sabbatical around the country. My plan was to visit several Route 66 sights, starting from St Louis and working my way to the south down the famous highway. Our first stop was the Chain of Rocks Bridge, the first tollbridge on the Mother Road, just off the main highway. It was a grey and drizzly day, so we were understandably the only car in the parking lot. With a break in the rain, it seemed like a good time to grab some pictures of the bridge before we headed to our next stop.
With the baby in the stroller, we set off about 50 yards from the car to grab some pictures of the bridge. I reached into the stroller to grab the video camera and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car drive up next to my car. In what seemed like movie magic slow motion, I watched in disbelief as a shadowy figure entered my car and began rifling through my front seat.
For a moment, I seemed to be helplessly routed in place, while the world spun in out of control vertigo around me. With an audible snap, my brain whiplashed back into the moment, and as though I was out of my own body, actions began to happen without thought. In the retelling of this story, this was the moment, according to my son when “Mom began to freak out.”
I instructed the boys to huddle together and stay put, and then I began charging towards my car. With a primal growl that was propelled by a force not of my own body, I demanded that the shadowy figure GET OUT OF MY CAR! As the criminal ran for his getaway car, I used the only weapon at my disposal-my camera. In rapid succession, I captured images of the car and the criminals which would later be used to help the police open a case file for a string of burglaries at this site, likely by the same pair.
Assessing the damage, my purse along with my phone inside had been taken, but many of the other valuable things in our vehicle had been untouched, likely due to running away from the screaming, crazy lady. The criminals had used a screwdriver to punch a hole under my keylock, but no other damage was done. And we were all safe. That was the most important thing of all.
The next hours were filled with filing a police report, stopping my credit cards, and unloading the mountain of adrenaline that exploded on contact. Although the physical clean up of getting new credit cards, identification,and phone was painful, it was the personal second guessing that was gag gift that kept on giving. Why hadn’t I taken my purse with me? Because I wasn’t even out of sight of my car. Why had I taken a risk with an unsafe site? There was nothing that indicated it wasn’t safe. What if they had a weapon? Let’s not go there.
You can imagine how you might respond to an emergency, but until you are fully submerged in an adrenaline pumping moment of crisis, you just can’t be sure.
So, what did I learn?
- I learned that I am not a ‘run and hide’ kind of person. Apparently, I am a ‘scream and take condemning pictures’ kind of person. I probably would have guessed this about myself, but now I know for sure that I will never be one of those wimpy women you see in the movies who becomes an emotional puddle while a criminal takes my purse.
- I learned that I should probably never be allowed to own a gun. In that moment, standing between my precious children and the criminals violating my property, I would have emptied the clip first and asked questions later. Momma bear doesn’t even begin to cover it.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a real thing, and although I only experienced a taste of it, I know that it has the potential to be debilitating. There were several nights when I had to talk myself down from the ledge of panic as my brain replayed the ugly scenario in my sleepless bed. There were several days when I had to give myself the mother of all pep talks to muster the courage to venture out on my own again. As much as I wish it wasn’t the case, I will always carry a small scar with me from this experience.
- I learned that I have led a sheltered and naïve life and this has allowed me to have a rosy outlook on the world and the people in it. I have always been a very trusting person and I believe that the world is filled with mostly good and decent people. I am happy to say that I still feel this way about the world, but the shine has been rubbed off just a bit.
- I have learned that life is a series of risks, and whether you are close to home or far away, you cannot avoid the inherent risk of just being alive. Human existence is a risky business. That risk has great power-even the power to control your actions. It would have been easy (although cowardly) for me to take my kids and run as fast as I could back to the “safety” of home. But then I wouldn’t have only lost my purse and phone, I would have lost my freedom to call my own shots and pursue my dreams by exploring the world.