On Tuesday, April 9, at 1:00 in the afternoon, I was walking down a very busy street in my neighborhood in Quito when a man ran up behind me and tried to take my purse. I held on to it, so he smashed my right hand with his gun. I let go, screaming, and he ran to his friend on a motorcycle and drove off. This all happened about half an hour after I made a withdrawal at a nearby bank. I had already dropped off most of my cash and all of my bank documents in my apartment, so they didn’t get much in my purse. But I suspect being mugged so shortly after a trip to the bank was not a coincidence.
This incident really shook me up. The thought that people were watching me in the bank. The encounter with a gun. But mostly, the realization that this could have been much, much worse. If they were watching me, if they did suspect I had a lot more money on me than I did, they could have shot me.
They could have killed me.
I changed my locks and filed a police report and had my hand x-rayed and replaced what was stolen. I did everything I was supposed to do after a crime like this. But I still feel like a target. I WAS a target. And for a few days after the incident, I would suddenly burst into tears when I thought about what COULD have happened.
This occurred in the middle of the day on a busy street. There were 4 or 5 other people on the sidewalk with me. But what could any of us do against two men with guns?
vul·ner·a·ble1: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded2: open to attack or damage
Then I remembered an excellent TED Talk by Brene Brown, a social work researcher. In her research she has identified people who live “whole-heartedly” and how it is that they live that way. She found that whole-hearted people “fully embrace vulnerability. They believe that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating… they just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, ‘I love you’ first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees…”
Ya know what? That’s LIFE. There are no guarantees in life. I could get mugged again. Or worse.
A few days later I was in the U.S. helping my family with some health-related issues (no health guarantees either, folks). And while driving through sleet to my mom’s house, my car slid into the ditch. The weather and driving conditions made me vulnerable to an accident. Luckily it was really just more of an inconvenience.
All of this to say that living, REALLY living, means being vulnerable. Moving to a new country. Starting a new job. Connecting with people. Driving a car. Walking down the sidewalk. Life is full of risks. There’s no guarantee any of this will work out. And yet I’ve done it. And am doing it. And will continue to do it.
Instead of focusing on how much worse the robbery could have been, I’m trying to focus on all the people who helped me immediately afterward (the store employees who invited me inside, called the police, gave me ice for my hand, and walked me back to my apartment so I didn’t have to walk alone; the neighbor lady who cleaned my hand and let me use her internet and phone to call the Embassy; my apartment housekeeping staff and guards who called a locksmith to get me back into my apartment; the maintenance guy who changed the locks on my door).
Instead of thinking about what could have happened when my car slid in the ditch, I will let my heart be warmed by the fact that during the hour I waited for my family to arrive, 8 (EIGHT!) different people stopped (in horrible weather) to make sure I was okay.
Dr. Brown closes her TED Talk with some thoughtful recommendations, which I will also use to close this post: “to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee… to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror… just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, ‘I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.'”