Gene, who served in Vietnam as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, realized what was going on and, essentially, tore the guy apart. Without going into too much detail herein, he described what he did and it sounds to me like, by the time Gene was done with him, most of the guy's bones were either broken or bruised. Listening to him describe the entire incident and the fallout thereafter, including visiting the girl in the hospital the next day, he was obviously shaken -- not because he's emotional, but because -- as I said to him -- he's got a daughter as well. He was going through the events and actually said out loud that had he decided to take the elevator rather than the stairs he doesn't know what the guy would have done after he was finished. Apparently, he has two prior pedophile/rape-related convictions as well as a few other assorted items on his sheet, and he had just been released from prison less than 48 hours prior to that night. So who knows.
I wouldn't have mentioned it herein except that it reminded me, on some level, of a night about nine years ago when I was with a girlfriend and another couple -- friends of hers -- at the South Street Seaport. It was late -- about 11:00 or 11:30 -- when we were lazily strolling down by Fulton Street when we heard a woman shout. Before we knew what was happening, we saw a guy running towards us clutching a white leather purse. As he came nearer, I think on some level I heard the same woman scream something about her bag, and before I could even think, as the guy was coming upon us by the mall entrance, I moved to my left, dropped my shoulder and basically threw a body-check, driving him square into the brick wall by the entryway. He went down and, from the sound of him hitting the wall and the ground, I'd say he had a concussion. In the meantime, a woman ran up to us -- I'd say she was about 50-55 -- and thanked us in a sharp southern accent. I didn't ask where she was from, but I was at least glad to be able to give her back her purse. My then-girlfriend, in front of her friends, chastised me and told me that I shouldn't have gotten involved and that the guy with the purse might have had a gun or a knife. She told me that I was crazy for risking my life -- and hers, and her friends' -- for some stranger's purse. And she told me that what I did was stupid.
Needless to say, that night I dropped her off with her friends and wished her a pleasant life.
I think the combination of serendipity and responsibility is interesting. Obviously, I am not comparing a woman having her purse stolen with a young girl being attacked. But the notion of fate -- that things are predestined or predetermined -- isn't necessarily something I believe in anymore, just as I think that no matter how hard we pray and hope for things, we have to take action to achieve goals and results. I think fate is only halfway there: we're given opportunities to act. Whether we shine or shrink from those opportunities is on us alone. And inasmuch as it would have been much easier for Gene to keep walking and for me to pretend I didn't see that asshole running away with the purse, I know I personally would never have been able to forget how I could have done something and didn't. In Gene's case, he would not have been able to look at his daughter the same way again, let alone himself in the mirror.
It reminded me of a William James quote a teammate once had posted in his locker next to mine.
Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.It does.