by Joshua Longbrake
Peace is a fallacy. More accurately, the nuanced emotional disposition that there will be a state of continual rest is a fallacy. Peace my not be synonymous with continual rest. Nevertheless, the glass is neither half full nor half empty; it is full of poison. (A good man told me that years ago.) Evil lurks and is patient, like bad news at the end of a good day.
OK? I’ll tell you. My friend, the one with the glasses, invited me to his new apartment for a housewarming party and a celebration that his wife had recently passed the bar exam. Will there be cheese? Gruyere is my social vodka. If there are more than 4 people in a room I get claustrophobic and sweaty, but I’ll go to a U2 concert if there’s a cheese table. There was cheese, so I went. Of course I wanted to celebrate their new home and her passing of the bar, but let’s not pretend I’m a better man than I am. There will be cheese.
It was a great night after a good day. I brought a bottle of wine, met a few wonderful people, and had good food. One man I met was most certainly one of the kind ones. He works in a city just north of Chicago at the end of the train line. He never broke eye contact and spoke genuinely. May he be blessed in his search and work. I met someone else who owns his own coffee company, so we talked about Kenyan coffees and wet and dry processes and roast profiles. He knows a lot more than I know and I asked a lot of questions. Another woman worked in the legal world against tobacco companies, specifically the marketing of tobacco to children. She said that the tobacco packaging, the colors and fonts, were adapted specifically to lure adolescents. The flavors were made more palatable, cherry and grape and strawberry, because kids could endure it long enough to get addicted. More learning. Tell me more, tell me more.
Late to arrive, early to leave, but I’m trying to stay thirty minutes past the point when I want to leave. Ask Kirby (don’t ask Kirby). She wasn’t with me that particular night, but growth happens alone at times, so I stayed those extra thirty minutes. “Goodbye, nice to see you, nice to meet you, thanks for the wonderful evening!” and I was off to the Red Line heading south. I always sit in the first car or the last car. I like to see where I’m going or where I’ve been. It’s fairly neurotic, surprise surprise, but you understand based on my cheese exposition. That evening, the front car, front seat, because I love going home.
Peace to violence happens in an instant. Headphones in, stocking cap close to my eyes, listening to a lecture from a conference on intimacy and marriage. I was in my own world and was violently pulled into another’s. On the train, by the door, were five or six young girls, maybe junior high, pushing another girl to the ground. A crowd of their peers had formed around them watching and yelling as It escalated from a screaming match to fists thrown with the girl, the victim, ending up on the ground being kicked in the head. There were some older guys standing close and watching, late 20s, and for one second I waited for them to step in, but instead they pulled out their telephones and started taking video. Then that moment happened, where you either avert your eyes and try to escape back into your own world or you jump up and you act.
I stood up and got between the girls, pulling the five of them off the girl on the ground. They were stomping on her head, literally, and I became angry. I’ll be damned if I will let the world violently crumble around me. I helped the girl up and, as gently as I could, pushed her abusers away from her. They threatened me while the girl being beaten ran to the other side of the train. The mob followed her and began hitting her again to the ground. I ran down to the other end. A big guy my age, probably 6’3” was standing and watching. “Quit standing there and do something!” He wouldn’t budge. Others on the train were sitting in their seats staring ahead, as if nothing was happening. A few were still taking videos and I didn’t know whether to slug them in their cowardly jaws or help the girl. I got between the mob again. They were pulling her hair and kicking her in the gut. I pulled them off and yelled at them, monosyllabic words, acting out of instinct to try to get them to stop without hitting them myself. They threatened me, but I knew I was the threat, so I pushed and yelled. The most difficult part was restraint, to not stop the violence with violence, though I admit that if it were young men then I might have acted differently.
The train stopped, the doors opened, and the group of girls ran off the train, leaving the girl bloody on the floor. She crawled off, and I wanted to tell her to stay on the train another stop, to let their be a mile of distance, but the doors closed as she was screaming on the platform.
I sat down shaking with adrenaline, and how quickly the voice of evil whispered in my ear, “You didn’t do enough. You could have done more. You should have covered her with your body and taken the blows yourself. You were the coward in your gentle pushes and pulls.” It was instantaneous. Evil stayed on the train with me. I hope it didn’t follow that young girl down the platform.
I am not a hero, but the other capable people on the train were cowards. After I sat down I looked at them with anger and they would not make eye contact. A woman got up and thanked me, and I nodded, fuming with rage while simultaneously at the point of tears. That poor girl.
When it comes time to act, you have to trust your gut, trust your anger at injustice and trust the force of goodness in the world. The factors at play were insurmountable: gender, age, race, size. They made the safe choice obvious: stay in your seat and turn up your headphones. Don’t you dare do that. Do not just sit their and don’t you ever take out your phone to make a video. Do not let the world crumble around you. Help and bless, help and bless, help and bless. We’re here for a short time and we do not have the luxury of fear and cowardice. There’s simply no room for it.
2:40pm (7 notes)