As I stood in the middle of the mall, I noticed two young guys in their early teens talking to one another and glancing at me. Before I knew it, one of the boys broke away and lunged straight at me with a knife in his hand. A day that began as a fun adventure took a dark turn.
That morning I set off with my daughter on a road trip to look at colleges before her senior year of high school. Our first stop that day was Youngstown State University. She enjoyed the tour of the campus but the school wasn’t a good fit for her. So we left Youngstown and drove to Parma, Ohio.
Parma was an excellent place to stop for the night since it was close to our next visit to Baldwin Wallace University. My son, who was going into his sophomore year of high school, joined us on this preview tour to get a feel of what was in store for him in a few years.
We checked into our hotel and since we were ready for dinner, found a Chinese restaurant nearby and then headed to the Parma Mall to do some shopping. The Parma Mall was an older shopping mall that still had carpeting throughout.
We walked around for a while, searching for something interesting to buy. Other than the carpeting on the floors everywhere, the mall was full of the same old stuff. I got bored watching my daughter and son outfitting themselves with new clothes for the upcoming school year.
“I’m going to walk around the mall a bit and see what else is here. You can text me when you’re done,” I said.
I strolled around on my own, hoping to spot an art store or a used bookstore. But finding neither, I stood in the middle of the mall considering my next move. I saw two young guys standing a few yards from me. I noticed as they talked to one another, each would look at me, laugh, and then turn and talk some more. I didn’t think much about it.
Then one of the young guys, 12 or 13 years old, broke away from the other and ran straight toward me. I focused on his upraised arm, where he held a dagger. I froze. Everything went into slow motion. The people around me blurred as my attention went to this young boy running at me with a knife.
My eyes focused on the dagger in his right hand. A little voice within me said, "Don't worry. It's only a plastic theater prop.” I detached from the scene as if watching a movie with someone else standing right next to me.
I stood calm and engaged as this guy plunged the knife into my chest. Rather, I watched the young boy’s plastic knife collapse into itself against my chest. My arms wrapped around him and I said, “You got me, Dude.” Seriously, that was all I could think of saying.
Everything came back into focus, the sounds of people talking, the mall stores, and the feeling of this kid in my arms. A few nearby shoppers looked over at us and figuring, I suppose, that we knew each other, went back to shopping. The young guy, who found himself in a bear hug, looked up at me and said, “Weren’t you scared?”
“Well, I was a bit surprised.”
He broke away, looked at me with disbelief, and walked down the mall with his friend. As I stood there, feeling relieved, and a little tickled, my son and daughter arrived.
“You’ll never believe what just happened to me.”
I told them about the incident with the young boy and the dagger. They were horrified and wanted to find the culprits and call the police. I could still see the two guys walking down the mall.
“Let’s just leave it for now.”
Horrifying or Inspiring
Whenever I tell this story, I get the same reaction: “That is horrifying.” Yet, I think of it differently. Instead of focusing on what the kid was trying to do to me, I focus on the voice I heard. It was a clear and very peaceful feeling, more like a transfer of information–“Don’t worry. You are safe.” Which was accompanied by a sense of inner calm so pervasive that I could hug my “attacker” and even joke with him a little.
I find a lot of humor in the memory of these two young guys trying to scare an old guy only to have the tables turned. I even wonder sometimes if I had some sort of significant influence on their lives.
Maybe one is now a doctor and the other a social worker trying to help kids. Perhaps they were both in an acting class working on a realistic murder scene in a mall, and now they're both famous actors. I know it is a fantasy. But I prefer to think about them that way than as mean kids or juvenile delinquents.
I love the memory of that inner voice of calm and safety. The one with bionic eyes which zoomed in on the “weapon,” determined its composition, and then judged it safe. It was as if my life guide stepped out of silent mode to let me know this moment was significant for me, the kid, or both of us.
The Inner Voice
I can still hear the inner voice when I am struggling with a problem and need a miracle. Sometimes I can see my guide’s words appear in my journal as I do some open writing. It’s in those moments when I choose to let go of my inner critic and allow the words and thoughts to flow that I can hear the voice; my inner tutor reaching out to me.
Becoming quiet, open, and inviting to whatever this moment might bring often results in an IDEA flashing across the screen of my mind. Sometimes while sitting with a cup of coffee in the early morning, I love to daydream. I'm not reading the paper, looking at social media, or listening to the radio. I am sitting and allowing my mind to wander. Often an IDEA appears looking for a creative home. And if I’m awake and aware, I can catch it.
That's usually what the voice is like—a fleeting picture, a few words, an idea, a direction, a feeling.
I believe we all have a Guide, ready to help and offer direction. We all get so distracted and overwhelmed by our problems that we forget to ask for help. It merely takes a quiet moment to hear the voice inside. The best way to begin is in something small. A friend of mine is sure he has an angel that finds parking places for him. Another friend, a composer, can hear the melody in his head. “The song just shows up,” he tells me. It only takes a moment to step back and ask for help.
Carlos Santana (you know Santana!) was asked by Leila Cobo of Billboard magazine, “What advice would you give to your younger self?”
Santana said, “Strip yourself naked from anything that anyone taught you about yourself. And only listen to the voice of your heart, the voice of your light.” (AARP The Magazine, August/September 2019)
My memory of that time in the mall is a sacred space for me, as holy as a church. In Parma, I heard the voice of my heart whispering to me for the first time.