Saturday, March 15, 2008

In an Instant

My son and I heard the yelling and cursing in the front of the store. An aisle or two away from the source, the commotion drew us forward. We missed what preceded, but we saw the collapsible night stick fall to the ground with a clang.

Adrenaline and tension made quite a display, the equivalent of raised hackles and chest thumping. There was clearly a nose-to-nose impasse: surrounded by onlookers and having lost control of the situation, the security guard's ego was entangled and on the line; obviously offended by what he felt was some form of injustice, and yelling that he had just lost his father five days prior, the patron was apparently at wit's end.

What could be worse? One man feels he has already lost everything save his last shred of dignity and feels he is under attack. Another has lost his bearing as well as a weapon and still holds a holstered gun on his hip. Both have lost their centers, each tensely feeding off the other's aggression. Together we were all one breath away from some point of no return.

The rising and falling of curses and provocation continued as the patron made his way through the register. "Look, I have cash. Look, I'm paying! I haven't done anything wrong! There's nothing you can do!!!"---all punctuated with curses.

And the security guard, with ego rising, cursed back in response.

I had come forward thinking to intervene, but it was clear that the only positive solution would be if the two could be separated, and, under the circumstances, that could only happen if the patron left the store and the guard did not pursue. Albeit slowly, that was happening on its own on the far side of the registers---until the guard was not content with letting the patron have the last word. It was only when an older gentleman on the other side of the registers stepped between the guard and the departing patron with one palm raised to signal that he stop that peace began to return.

The patron turned to reenter and have his last words, and the guard did turn to respond, but the elderly fellow between them without saying a word quashed any further escalation. The patron finally left. The guard paced tensely and began his incident report as the adrenaline slowly burned away.

How differently all of this could have ended...

What was the cause? What was the effect? What were the uncountable thoughts and events that shaped that one very moment, bringing the security guard, the patron, and the elderly man altogether at this one time and place, even bringing my son and I there to witness and record it?

Look around. We see the bodies moving about us like empty containers, unaware of what thoughts and experiences fill them. Consider how at any moment, whether at an office, walking in the mall, driving on a highway, or dropping in for a few items at the grocery store, we encounter people just like us but one instant away from cracking? From stepping on a path from which they feel there is no escape? From making a decision, taking a stand, or ringing a bell that they presume cannot be un-rung?

And how often is that person you or me?

Life is precisely this fragile.

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