The other night I was in bed. 11:58 p.m. I was reading a novel that’s set in a desperate place in the world, and comparing my life and finding myself privileged to live in this country, to have at my disposal more luxuries than some people even dream of.
In the midst of my reverie, I heard a commotion out the window. At first I ignored it. There’s a bar across the street from my apartment so commotion is commonplace. Eventually, the shouting and screams escalated so I poked my head out the window, tentatively at first, but my curiosity winning out. Two people (maybe a couple, maybe an estranged couple) arguing, the woman screaming at the top of her lungs, the man shouting expletives in retort. Down the block, several people had gathered, curious too. I wondered if anyone had called the police and had flashbacks to the Kitty Genovese murder I studied in my college Psychology class.
Scanning the scene, however, I noticed that at the corner, there was indeed a NYPD squad car half up on the curb, and an officer, blanketed by the darkness of the scaffold, handling the situation. Or at least, trying to, because as the seconds ticked by, I realized the man wasn’t screaming at the woman anymore, he was shouting at the police, baiting him, telling the cop he didn’t care, and he could shoot him. “Shoot me, shoot me, I don’t care”, he was saying, over and over, his voice rising even higher, his tone more and more aggressive, almost as if he was issuing a dare and taunting the other person to carry it out.
The woman, on the other side of the street by this time, was screaming at the man, accusing him of being selfish, thinking only about himself. But it was hard to hear her because the man was yelling, throwing out sexually graphic and violent slurs, aiming them at the officer who was just calmly trying to diffuse the situation.
I don’t know what happened because I moved away from the window, heartbroken. Eventually the noise died down and I heard the cop car drive away with its telltale siren-less beep that told me danger had been averted. I don’t know if they arrested the man. I suppose they had to.
But what resonated with me was the way the man shouted at the police, giving permission, almost, to shoot him, as if he didn’t care about his life. And that made me sad. Sadder than anything I had been reading in my fiction set halfway across the globe in what I had considered desperate situations.
Truth is, you can feel desperate wherever you are. You can be surrounded by luxury and still feel poor, no matter where you are. You can sit on an unpaved concrete step, eating guavas like the children in the novel, and be alright, yet you can have access to every opportunity and not care whether you live or die. Why is that?
Perspective matters. And perspective comes from decisions. Whether you decide to have a positive outlook on life, to respect yourself and the people around you, to honor God’s authority in your life, to find and use your talents, to serve others with love. Those are decisions that we make. The decision to love ourselves. To value our lives. To love and cherish others as we love and cherish our own selves.
A person who loves himself would never dare a person with a gun to shoot him. No matter how angry he was. No matter what injustice he felt had been done to him. No matter what. No matter how desperate he thought his situation was.
But that’s what I think.
If you see it differently, I’d like to hear it.