Lately I've been thinking about those moments that change the course of a lifetime. Sometimes these moments are monumental: seeing a loved one's face for the first time...or the last one. Dodging a bullet. Pulling someone away from certain death at the last possible second. These are motion picture moments, pieces of time that burn themselves into your memory and replay throughout the span of your life. But then I think of those other moments, the ones that aren't so exciting. A smile from a stranger. A child's laugh. Finding the perfect book for your not-so-perfect life at the perfect time. These aren't the moments that you relish for years to come, but they still matter. Because everything in life has a ripple effect, and sometimes you just don't realize what will come of that seemingly meaningless moment. I truly believe that we all have the power to touch others in ways we never imagined possible. That sounds dirty, but you know what I mean. Every time you interact with someone, you are changing that person's life in some small way. Whether it's for the better, or the worse...well, that's up to you. When I was in junior high, I found myself being bullied by a wretched, ginger-haired beast of a girl. She was basically the class bully, and somehow I managed to get on her bad side. Now that I am older, I am mature enough to realize that her behavior was a cry for help, but back then I just resigned myself to the unfortunate knowledge that junior high sucks, and girls could be mean for no discernible reason at all. She did her best to make my life miserable; while I employed my typical defense technique, which was ignoring her completely. For most bullies, this is enough, but this girl was crazy. The more I ignored her, the more it escalated, and things got so bad that I began to hate going to school. Verbal abuse spiraled into shoving, spitting, and on one memorable occasion she tried to set my coat on fire. Finally, my parents sat me down and set me straight: this girl needed a beat-down. Ugh. She did deserve it, but I knew fighting was going to hurt, and I wanted no part of it.
The day of reckoning came. One day, out in the schoolyard, she began her usual unimaginative litany of insults and threats. Instead of just ignoring her and walking past as if she didn't exist, things got changed up. This was pretty much how it went:
Me: "You know what? You have such a problem with me, let's take care of this once and for all."
Her: "Yeah? You want to take this outside?"
Me: "Um...we are outside."
Her: "Yeah? Okay, then let's do this."
Me: "Okay, I really want to fight you but if we do it here we'll get in trouble. Shouldn't we go somewhere else? Like, maybe after school?"
Me: "I don't know? Where's a good place?"
Her: "I don't care. I'll do it right here."
Me: "Eh, I don't know. I feel like we'll get suspended. Where else can we go?"
Eventually it was decided: we would fight at the bus stop. Perfect. All day long I sat in dreadful anticipation, knowing that my shiny, pre-pubescent face was going to be even less attractive after the events of the day were over. After classes were finished, I got on the bus, my nemesis eyeing me silently the entire way home. It was going to be a loooong bus ride.
Finally, the bus slowed to a halt at our stop. We exited the bus, and a large gaggle of onlookers surrounded us, chanting for a fight. We circled each other like two feral cats, the first punch was thrown, and it was on. I remember a blur of hair-pulling, scratching, and kicking, but neither of us seemed to actually get anywhere in the fight. She had linebacker shoulders and the strength of the insane on her side, but I had endurance, and a deathly aversion to losing. The result of this pairing was possibly the longest fight in the history of middle-school fights. It went on...and on...and on. It went on SO long that the people watching us started to drift away, bored. Hell, I was bored. I had been fighting for what seemed like hours, and no one was winning or losing. I needed a nap.
As we continued to struggle sluggishly, I noticed that we were now all alone. No one had stayed to see the results of the fight, probably because it was past their curfew. Having realized that I wasn't giving up, she began to push me into the street, toward the traffic. We were at the bottom of a large hill, and suddenly, I saw someone sprinting down it. It was a tall, lean man, maybe in his thirties. At first I thought he was going to run right by us, as he had literally come out of nowhere, and could not possibly see what was going on from the other side of the hill. However, he ran right up to us and pulled me out of the street. She tried to throw a punch, but he grabbed her arm and shoved her back away from me. He looked me in the eye and said firmly, "Go home. Now." She pushed back against him, but he wouldn't loosen his grip. And again, he simply said, "GO."
So I did. I trudged up the hill to my house, tired and sweaty...and curious. Who was that guy? Where did he come from? And how did he even know that there was a fight going on? There was no way he could have seen us.
Do you know I still think about him to this day, almost thirty years later? I think about how many adults would have just walked by, seeing two kids fighting in the street, and not given them a second look. I wonder if I would have actually ended up getting seriously hurt if things had gone on uninterrupted; someone nasty enough to push a person into traffic probably wouldn't have any qualms about picking up a rock and smashing that person's head in to win a fight. Sometimes I wonder if he was sent by divine intervention. Regardless, just think about this: that man, a stranger, spent about 20 seconds with me, and I still think about him, all these years later. Those moments probably meant nothing to him; if questioned today, he might not even remember that incident. Maybe at some point I have affected someone in the same way, without even being aware of it...and you probably have, as well.