CS: Self-Defense

For those of you who haven’t met me, I’m 5’7″ and athletic; I walk with some level of urgency, and my steps are solid and certain. Plus, I’m black. All of this means that when I go out in public, even at night, I’m not particularly afraid for my safety. God bless the thief who tries to rob a Black girl who’s rushing to her car to escape a cold February evening. But that night, I felt fear for the first time. I wasn’t on my couch watching a scary movie or barreling down a roller coaster alongside friends. Last Wednesday, as I was walking to my car in the dark, a thin-frame emerged from the nearby parking lot and followed my exact path – only a few feet behind.

When I was young, I spent a significant amount of time in my father’s office building. After school, I would head there, and go up to his office to say hi and pray that he would give me fifty cents to buy a kiss cake in the shop next door. I’d sit in an empty room or the kitchen and do homework while the snack kept me company. And I’d wait happily for my dad to come downstairs and take me home. I spent over a decade following this routine, and one day, one of daddy’s coworkers joined me in the kitchen. I felt I had little of value to say to this grown woman, but she sweetly engaged with me in between bites of her food. One of her first questions was this, “what do you want to be?”

My answer was immediate: “A writer.” Nothing else made sense to me then. Nothing else makes sense to me now. I sat there and watched as her face changed, and she stared at me with some level of shock in her eyes. She mentioned after a moment that mine was a great and rare dream. And with that, I understood how beautiful it was to be given a passion that few understand, and no school or mentor could effectively teach. I lived for great stories, and that mattered.

I believe that we don’t care enough for some of the most precious parts of ourselves because we can’t see them. We shower and eat well to take care of a body we can physically see and touch. But we neglect the softer aspects of who we are because what is unseen is often forgotten by our fickle minds and hearts.

The young man following me, if seen in the daytime, would be ignored. He was young and scrawny, wearing a hoodie that made him look pale under the weak glow of the streetlamp. He kept a brisk pace, matching mine. I looked at my car. It was nice: red, sporty, somewhat clean with relatively new tires. It was all he could take from me, but I panicked, thinking that he would assume I was lying if I said I had no money with me. I hurried to my car and jumped in. Do you ever get that feeling as though there’s acid being poured over your heart? My chest burned and my fingers shook slightly, as I looked back. The young man walked past. I watched as he kept looking back at my car as he walked into the darkness.

I was eager to protect my body, my car and everything in it. Maybe even protect the future this young man might have wanted to take from me, but I find it interesting that there are things just as valuable that I don’t fear losing.

When I was 15 and I decided to legitimize my dream of becoming a writer and publish my work, nothing could stop me. And I mean that. You could have burned the manuscripts or set my computer on fire, and 9 months later I still would have published. Three years afterward, I was working on a big project; one that I was preparing to publish as my second book. But with only a few words from a close friend of mine, undermining my story idea, I never touched that tale again. Literally – I’d being writing for months, and after that day, I never returned to the word document.

As we grow older, we lose our zeal and determination, even though it should grow in order for us to stand strong against a critical and discouraging world. My desire to produce crazy good stories eroded as I gave too much credence to others’ perceptions.

I sat idly by, and chose not to defend something of incredible value to me. And there’s no excuse for that.

There’s a lot that can infringe on the unseen parts of your life. These thieves can rob you of your ambitions, of your strength and vitality, and even undermine your character if you’re not diligent to protect yourself. Without paying attention, your social life can rob you of your morals. Your family drama can erode your belief in love and marriage. The small but sharp criticisms of your parents can stunt your confidence. Specifically, caring too much about the opinions of others, and not investing enough time in building yourself up, can do more damage than you realize. These are thin blades, cutting and peeling away at our treasure over time. And we barely notice it happening. On the other end of things, is a simple lack of focus. We should want to see those hidden parts of ourselves flourish, but we grow lazy in favor of immediate gratification. Or things that feed our pride like the affections of others.

Or pursuing material things that make us feel accomplished and powerful.

Your legacy isn’t tied up in your salary or how nice your car is. Your children will not be impressed by how good your makeup is, nor will they care about how passionately you follow cricket. Today and in the future, what matters are three things: the way you treat others, the way you manage your resources, and the way your steward your gifts/talents (for the good or ill of others). Those things make up your legacy. And they deserve your attention and protection.

When I was 17, I cared so much about what my friend thought of my writing, I let her steal that story from me. Instead, I should have fought back, and pushed through the discomfort. I should have registered her criticism as destructive, and ignored it in order to protect what was shaping up to be a great story. Last Wednesday, I shouldn’t have been walking to my car by myself – at night. I should’ve asked someone to come with me, or carried pepper spray. These are no-brainers, yet we almost never do them.

***

There are things in your life right now that’s precious and worth protecting. Fight for them, don’t let quiet thieves rob you of your passion or undercut your character. I don’t care much for pop culture, but let me just say here that you have to ignore the haters, and grind behind the scenes. No one will do it for you. And if you let poor time management, what others think and a lack of focus describe your entire existence, then you are leaving the doors and windows of your very being open, and inviting thieves to come in and destroy it all.

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