Back when Chris was Christopher, and Christopher was 10, we left the mall after a successful shopping trip. Whatever item we needed had been purchased, our errands were completed and Life Was Good. We were both satisfied as we stepped into the sunny Saturday morning.
It was easy to find our car then: we owned the only light brown Honda Civic Wagon in town. When I opened the door I was surprised to see a donut on my my seat, sitting on a piece of paper with two words scribbled on it: “Hi Carol!” No one was in sight. In our small town, gentle courtesies like this are not uncommon. We divided the still-warm donut, rolled down the windows, and enjoyed our treat in companionable silence.
A shadow blocked the sunlight as a deep voice said, “Excuse me? How do you get to the truck stop?” A large man in a flannel shirt and jeans leaned against my son’s side of the car. Within a nanosecond his head was inside the car as his hands gripped the door.
A frisson of terror gripped me as I realized how utterly vulnerable we were. Our car was a quarter mile from an interstate highway, the keys dangling in the ignition. His head was an inch away from my ten year old son. I had no idea if a gun, a knife or his large hands would be pressed against my boy’s throat. Even though it was a bright sunshiny day in full view of the public, I felt threatened.
Struggling for a neutral tone, stuttering each syllable, mentally sifting the situation, I gave the man directions. When I finished there was a pregnant pause. Our eyes met and held. He then repeated the directions, said, “Thank you.” and walked away.
I let a big breath out, flicked a speck of dried sugar from my chin, started the car and drove home. After I told my husband the story, his strong reaction of anger, directed at me!, was astonishing.
“Why didn’t you tell him to get the h*** away from the car?”
“I didn’t want to be rude.”
“People don’t normally stick their heads inside a car, dear. It’s more important to protect yourself and your child than to be nice. Please remember that in the future.”
I came to understand godly rudeness late in life. When I was in high school, a classmate offered me drugs. “Oh no…..no. But thanks, anyway.” When a guy made a pointed sexual remark I sweetly changed the subject to James Taylor, Seals and Croft, or some other singer. I valued being polite and pleasing to people, i.e. not saying anything they wouldn’t like, more than my own dignity. There is a time to be articulate, blunt, direct and firm. Step away from the car….
The 1995 movie Under the Piano tells the story of an older sister Franny (Amanda Plummer) who tries to keep her autistic sister Rose (Megan Follows) out of an institution. Franny finds Rose a job and then prepares her for any potential problems with boys. (dialog loosely constructed from my memory)
I want you to say, “Drop dead, Frank.”
Rose, practice saying it.
“Drop dead, Frank.”
Say it again.
“Drop dead, Frank.”
She had the right idea.