When I was seven I shared a bedroom with my sister on the second floor facing the street in front of our house. North Fourth was a busy thoroughfare, with cars continually driving by at a higher speed than the posted 25 mph. It wasn't the busiest street, but busy enough to discourage any idea of casual crossing. Anyone under 10 really needed a tall adult to help them navigate across, since cars often parked on the side both ways, blocking the view of children on the corners attempting to look both ways before they crossed. It was extremely intimidating, the kids on the other side of the road were familiar--we always waved and sometimes shouted greetings at each other between the rush of traffic--but it might as well have been the Grand Canyon separating us.
Only at late night was there quiet in our neighborhood. The light of the street lamps filtering through the huge maples that lined our avenue softly shined through our bedroom window. I liked the window open in the summer, so that the breeze would cool the stifling midwestern stuffiness inside our room. I loved the quiet, with only the occasional dog barking in the distance or the slow car making its way home.
One night, I awoke one evening to hear some man crying "Help me!" in the middle of the street. It was more of a slow wail, I thought that I might have been hearing a ghost. I could hear the sound of his shoes as he slowly walked, one foot dragging behind the other. I went to the window, trying to see who was there but I couldn't see anything, the leaves of the maples were too dense to see through. I didn't know what to do--it could be dangerous and I was only seven. I then heard the voices of my parents softly speaking in the bedroom below me, and I wondered if they were hearing what I was also hearing and discussing it. I then became afraid that they would be angry that I was out of bed, and promptly hopped back in. By that time, the strange voice had grown more distant until it faded away. I wondered why my parents didn't open the door to help the poor guy. I fell asleep, worrying about him, hoping he was okay and wishing I was old enough to help people. I would never allow anyone to suffer around me. No lonely voices in the night would be ignored by me.
My parents didn't know what I was talking about when I brought it up at breakfast the next morning--a Saturday morning, bright and cheerful, and with a promise of a very warm and active day. I saw their furtive sidelong glances towards each other, my parents spoke volumes with eye contact with each other only. I was only seven and I knew that they knew and didn't want to talk about it. I was only seven, too young to know how my parents interpreted wailing in the street in the middle of the night.
I wouldn't let it rest, though. I am still that way--relentless. Finally, Dad told me to shut the window if I heard something strange again in the middle of the night. I was confused, but it was the first of many steps I learned in the lessons of self-protection. People are not what they seem, don't always trust them. Children do not get involved in helping adults. Children trust their parent's judgement. And as my father always warned all the years I grew up, there are tigers out in the world looking for a meal, watch out. Don't be the main course.
My Dad would have never told me that all people are basically good. He also would have never told me that it was my responsibility to make everyone happy and to alleviate human suffering. Or that helping people without thinking twice first was a wise thing to do. If you could sum up all what Dad teach me about survival in the world, it was that trust was to be earned and that your life is too precious to waste for someone else to take advantage or hurt you. He also made sure that as a girl, that I learned how to argue, stand my ground and be as strong as I possibly could be. He respected women who were kind, but also forces to be reckoned with. He would not tolerate weakness in me in any way. He told me a thousand times if not ten thousand times what to do if a man tried to hurt me. He especially instilled in me that I had a responsibility for myself to not end up a victim. Hawaiian women were all raised like this, it is a cultural value.
To be a woman who could summon up enough wrath to warrant fear in the hearts of all around her was a woman of great worth as long as the anger was a justifiable anger that sought to protect what was right and whoever was weak. Like, a lioness protecting her cubs.
I've long tried to reconsile this kind of virtue with the virtuous women of the Bible. It's hard at times. But most often, it is easy. My future blogs will be a series of reflections on biblical women.