I’m on my walk. It’s a 3 mile trail on a hill. There’s a huge section on the downhill that runs along what I think of as “the bracken”—wetlands-y, bordering the woods, lots of overgrowth.
Just as I enter the bracken, I see a man coming towards me. He’s about a football field away, which starts my heart racing because it’s not much time to plan.
Plan what, you ask? Ha! No you didn’t, because you’re mostly women here. You know exactly what I meant: I’m alone and here comes a man.
My first thought was I didn’t bring Dasher. Not that Dasher would save me from anyone, but only our family, friends, contractor, the pool guy next door, our neighbors and the kids down the street know that. To everyone else he looks like a German Shepherd tied one on with a Doberman. But I didn’t bring him with me today.
This is the moment I take a good hard look at the bracken to my right. Which, hey look at that, slopes downward. How have I never noticed that before? One good shove, and I’m off the path and into the blackberries. No one would ever know.
I’m not helpless, though. I can see him coming. He’s wearing sweats, a hoodie and sunglasses. I remind myself to strike for the soft spots. Then I sink into my feet, ready.
YOU GUYS. I am just walking on a Monday morning at 9:00 am in my own town, but I now have a plan for the man who is walking towards me on the path.
And it is only because of what he does next that I even spend one second of my day unwinding this moment.
With at least 20 feet to go before we meet up, he swings wide off the other side of the path, putting a good 15 feet between us as we pass. I am so flummoxed by this that I actually think “Bit much, COVID dude” before I realize he did it to make me feel safe.
It shocks me. I’m not scared of much, but as I let go of all the ways I prepared to cross paths with him, I know that the threat I felt is ancient and generational, bred into my bones and reinforced by 49 years of living. Women are not always safe alone with a man. Vigilance is required. It has nothing to do with this particular man and he knows it, because he has a mom, wife, sisters, daughters. He doesn’t take it personally. But he does move to make me feel safe.
I’m telling you this thing that you already know as women because maybe we have forgotten that other people have ancient, generational instincts bred into their bones too, from other threats that also require vigilance.
We need to remember. We need to give people space for their vigilance, acknowledge that the vigilance is legitimate, and then earn each other’s trust. It’s not asking too much. It’s how we begin to fix what’s been broken.
It was the work of 10 seconds for that man to make me feel seen, respected and safe. We can do this for each other.