Fear is a funny thing. For some people it is ever present. For others, it creeps up and surprises you. The latter is more of who I am. I am not a fearful person. I have been in scary situations: My sisters drug me on an awful amusement park ride when I was young; I went through a riot in Uganda; I swam up to the edge of Victoria Falls. These are all isolated incidents, not a way of life for me.
Now, I work in a great city with its pockets of crime and disturbances. We send our volunteers into some of the roughest neighborhoods which means I too sometimes find myself hanging out in these places. With all the stories and warnings we are given I haven’t felt the fear I am told I should feel. As a pedestrian I am only another body walking in the crowd.
Last week I had to pick up one on my staff members from a pretty sketchy street/alley. I have been on this street a million times. This particular day, I was driving a car and I pulled up on the curb to wait for Jake to come out. There was a man weaving his way down the street talking to himself. This is not a new scene to me. There are many drunk, high, mentally disturbed people in this city. But as he got closer I felt that first prick of fear. What was different about this time? As he got closer he seemed to be stumbling more. As he gets closer I lock my already locked doors and roll up the windows all the way. I pretend not to be watching him and pray that I blend into the street somehow. Right as he was even with my back light he trips and falls into the drivers’ side of my car. I watch in my mirror as the man falls to the ground in the street. My first thought is, “I hope he’s not hurt too badly because I’m not getting out of this car.” My heart is pounding and I feel fear. Fear of the unpredictable. While I am much more clear minded and able to react faster, this man is completely unpredictable and I don’t know what to expect. So I wait. The man gets up and continues stumbling and weaving down the street like nothing had happened. Jake comes out and gets in the car and we drive off. I tell Jake the story and as we turn the corner we see the man sitting on the curb lighting up a joint.
What is interesting to me is that I was more afraid in that car than if I had been a pedestrian. For some reason I think I am safer as just another body on the street. I'm not alone on the street. I can run if need be. Or I can scream. But alone in my car, I feel fear.