I have been closely following news reports about the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooting tragedy. There is no way I can begin to understand or accept the magnitude of such a thing. In reading accounts of the events that unfolded, I found one act of particular interest. A first year Social Studies teacher, Megan Silberberger, heard the gunshots, and ran straight into the fray. She confronted and attempted to stop the shooter; reports described her behavior as instinctual.
I have pondered for years just what it is that makes some of us respond to needful situations in that instinctive way. Or why do some of us freeze, and become immobilized, while others cannot be held back? I wish I knew the answer to this, because it would help give my family and friends some degree of understanding why, if there is an emergency or crisis, I find myself catapulted into the center of it before thinking or reasoning have a chance to intervene. Danger and threat, or the possibility of things ending badly never cross my mind.
There is one experience, in particular, that I look back upon, and wonder how I did survive. Hindsight says I bit off a lot more than I could chew that day, and the outcome had to be attributed to some special grace; that being people who do such things are gratefully covered in a way we do not always see.
I was running a vocational program for developmentally disabled adults, and my assistant and I were at work early one morning, getting the day organized and structured before our consumers arrived. My assistant had stepped outside to enjoy a cigarette while she could, and I was in my office working on a schedule. The peace and quiet that had been mine was abruptly ended when my assistant ran back through the front door of our building screaming I needed to come quickly and help.
I jumped up, still holding my Sharpie, and ran outside. I immediately saw the problem. Our building was one of two identical structures, with a driveway separating them. Across the driveway, on the sidewalk, was a woman on her knees, screaming and crying, while a man, easily twice her size, was bashing her head into the support post of the building’s roof overhang. I ran toward them, yelling at the guy for all I was worth. He looked at me, stopped smashing her head into the post, and ran around the corner of the building to where his car was parked. When I got to her, I could see she barely was conscious, her head was bleeding profusely, and she had a grotesquely broken arm. I shouted to my assistant, who had remained on the safe side of the driveway, to call 911.
I heard the car moving, and saw he intended to get out of there as fast as he could. That is when I stepped into the middle of the driveway, and stood my ground. I still had the Sharpie that I had run outside with in my hand, and was determined to write down his license plate number. As I look back on this, I could have been Arnold Schwarzenegger in an action movie. I stood there, resolute, and did not flinch as he accelerated to make his getaway. He aimed his car straight at me, and I did not move. When he got close enough for me to read his plate, I wrote the number on my hand, and then jumped to the side just as he reached me.
He flew out of there like a bat out of you know where, and as I returned to assist that poor woman, the police, fire truck, and ambulance arrived. She was loaded into the ambulance, and taken to the hospital. I told the police what had occurred, and when they asked if I happened to have gotten his license plate number, I held up the palm of my hand for them to read.
After it was all over, I shook and shuddered for what seemed a very long time. Any kind of emotional or physical reaction to the experience then, as many times before, did not happen while the thing was going on, only afterwards would I find myself unravelling like the proverbial cheap sweater. The feeling me simply never showed up until things were resolved, and I was safe.
So is it instinctual; a spontaneous reflexive action to something that has violated an overdeveloped sense of right and wrong? I am talking about those times when caution is thrown to the wind, and necessary, needful responses take the driver’s seat, never giving advance thought to the threat or danger that possibly could result in irreversible harm. Can this behavior be tamed in someone who repeatedly leaps into the middle of circumstances that could produce a lot of trouble? Or could it be jolted, activated in someone who becomes as useful as a marble statue when needs arise?
I suppose it really does not matter. There always will be someone who helps when help is needed; some of us just are hard-wired that way. What I do wish for, though, as I contemplate this, is that a day would come when none of us ever again has to wrestle a gun away from a child, or jump in front of a car, or tend the wounds of a battered human being. Beyond words, I wish the pain would stop, and the need would end, forever.