I’ve always stood quite strongly with my parent’s rule of never talking to strangers. I grew up with safety in mind, to say the least. I remember specific examples of being told to be wary of strangers even at quite the young age. When I would travel to a department store with my grandmother, she would advise my sister and me not to “take off” from her, because we would be kidnapped. She’d pinpoint a certain person, an older gentleman, typically — and would advise us that he was a “bad man” and would snatch us if we ever left her side.
As an adult, I realize that she was only trying to protect her granddaughters, even if her actions were a bit extreme. However, such severe precautions of safety have not seemed to fade away. For some, this mindset is wise. After all, as college students, we’re constantly being reminded of how to stay alert to our surroundings, how to travel only in pairs after sunset, and how to steer away from any suspicious looking individuals. For myself, I’ve followed such guidelines and could have been awarded the gold medal of safety excellence if such a decoration existed. Yet, after an experience I had just this past week with the kindness of a stranger — who I may have otherwise brushed away — I think I may let the guard dogs relax just a bit.
When I have any free time on my hands, which is typically in the evening, I like to do what many 21–year–old women find such joy in dong — shopping. Since my Dominican career began, I’ve spent many nights walking from store-to-store in the downtown Oak Park area around Harlem and Lake, usually too money-conscious to buy anything, but curious enough to spend hours searching. On one certain Wednesday, I found myself there past sunset, arms full of bags from Trader Joes and Walgreens. It was only about 7 p.m., yet I was already in Tina-Ninja mode, automatically assuming that someone would want to attack me. There were a number of individuals around, and I put great effort into keeping my distance from anyone else. I remember holding all of my bags in one hand, just in case I had to use the other one, had my purse glued to my side, and my phone in grabbing distance. I had assumed the typical Tina stance.
As I was absorbed in my world of possible impending danger, I began to cross the busy Harlem and Lake intersection, heading to wait for the Dominican shuttle. Suddenly, I felt a jerk on my arm and was forcefully pulled back onto the sidewalk. I quickly swung my body around and snatched my arm back, my heartbeat increasing
in speed. The man who I thought was trying to attack me seemed to be two times my size, and hovered over me as the cold night air escaped my mouth in puffs of white vapor. Suddenly, I saw a car just barely miss me, flying down Harlem well over the speed limit. As I glanced up at the man, who I now realized had saved me from being hit by the careless driver due to having my head in the clouds, he looked down at me with only a few final words leaving his mouth:
“Don’t be so quick next time.”
Another typical Tina thing to do is to look for the symbolism behind every word, situation and opportunity. As I reflect upon this night, I think about what the man had said: “Don’t be so quick next time.” While I know he was talking about crossing the street without paying attention, I feel that there was more to it. That I shouldn’t be quick to judge. That I shouldn’t be so quick to let my fears overshadow someone’s good intentions. That I shouldn’t be so quick to cast aside a stranger, a stranger who saw reason to help me even though I was a stranger to them.
I’m sharing this story for a reason. Of course, I want you all to be safe, to use common knowledge, to allow your senses to keep yourself out of harms way. But, at the same time, I want you all to understand that a “stranger” isn’t always
a bad thing, and in fact, can be just the person you need in your life to reach such a powerful realization. At the end of the day, all people deserve the benefit of the doubt.
And, for such a scaredy-pants, this is the just the evidence I needed.
With an open mind that I hope to share,
- Tina Cisarik, Staff Writer