I was walking out of Walmart when my ears were accosted by the words.
I looked up.
"Get your ass in the store. Get your f**king ass in the store."
A couple was walking across the parking lot coming toward me. The woman was walking ahead of the man, her face gave no expression. "F**k you, bitch, get your ass in the store." The man trailed behind her, taunting her. For a moment I thought, "maybe they're playing." Maybe, he was teasing her. But his rant continued. "F**k you, bitch." Again and again. I stood, appalled. I didn't know what to do as I walked in their direction. I wanted to say "no, f**k YOU, asshole, don't talk to her like that!" But I knew better.
Mr. Perfect had recently sat before the gun board to get his concealed weapons permit. He told me how many people were there. He relayed to me the story of a man who had a domestic violence charge on his rap sheet. The man on the board fidgeted, obviously uncomfortable giving this man the right to carry a weapon. The wife hadn't pressed charges. Having no conviction, the board had no reason to say no. The man got his permit. I knew too many people carry weapons. I knew this man before me could be one of them. I couldn't react for my own safety. I couldn't react because it might cause him to go home and beat her. I stood helpless and stared.
She turned, just slightly and told him to shut up. He continued his tirade of profanities. I stood in the parking lot and stared him in the eyes. I willed him to look at me. I willed him to challenge me. I dared him to turn his hate toward me, a stranger, who would not have been willing to take it. I refused to ignore him.
The woman turned around and walked back to her car. He followed her. I walked toward my vehicle. She got into the driver's seat, he got into the passenger's seat and I got into my truck. She stared ahead looking exhausted. He rolled down his window and propped his elbow out. He wasn't a young man, born into a culture that wore pants around their asses and called women bitches. He had a head of silver gray hair; he was born of an era where people knew better. I followed them from the parking lot, my hand on my phone, waiting for him to lay a hand on her. They didn't speak, and I didn't breathe as we slowly drove the expanse of asphalt to the main road. We turned in opposite directions, toward opposite lives.
I left Walmart with new underwear, a DVD and a question burning in my brain: Did I do enough?
I kept thinking, 40 years ago this wouldn't have been OK. A man walking through a parking lot yelling F bombs, in front of women and children would have been looked at as a crazy person. He could have been arrested. Now no one even looked up. Nobody got involved. It wasn't their problem. We live in a world where everyone has access to everybody's business, but nobody really cares. No one cares because it doesn't affect them; but it does. His words affected my ears. He WAS my problem.
Recently, Michigan passed a law allowing motorcycle riders to ride without wearing a helmet. Some people rejoiced, because it was their heads and their business. Even people who thought it was a stupid rule said, "whatever, it's Darwinism, weed out the idiots, it's their problem." But freedom isn't a personal thing in a society. EVERYTHING we do and are affects other people. If a person dies, riding a motorcycle with no helmet, does it only affect them? What about the person that accidentally hits them and in a moment becomes a killer? What about the children that might be in the car or the drivers on the road who witness the smearing of the cyclist's brains on the street? What about the EMS workers and the doctors who will work three times as hard to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, called away from their lives and families because the rider wanted the freedom to be unsafe? We affect each other.
Individuality is a right. Who we worship, how we dress, what we read and believe is a right in this country, and thank goodness. But how we act and what we do cannot be. We are a society made up of communities of people, and our actions affect others. No longer can we afford to be OK with violence and with hatred. No longer can we sit idly by and smirk off people we deem "not our problem." This is reality, one cannot simply change the channel and move on. There was a time when certain behaviors were shameful, because people said something. It is time we spoke up and out about what is not OK.
Staring evil down and willing it to become your problem is not enough.
I write this with a heavy heart thinking of the many victims, families and friends affected by the horrible Colorado movie theater shooting. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I know I will always wonder about the Walmart woman. And it makes me wonder if we also let this shooter slide by, until he became...our problem.