The teenager looked like he was about 15 years old and the gun was shaking in his hand as he held it high and pointed it at me and said, “Give me everything you’ve got!”
It was two months before we were getting married and Liz and I were returning home from a graduate school class we had together. I was putting my key in the front door of my house when Liz, tapped me on my shoulder to get my attention. When I turned around I saw this guy with a gun running across the lawn with his friends waiting in their car on the street. Later, I heard it was gang initiation night, but in that moment, none of that mattered. Everything felt surreal like in a dream and initially I thought this must be some prank. The guy was standing three feet away from me with the gun pointed at my face and I asked him if the gun was real. Upon hearing this, he waved the gun closer in my face and in an abusive and angry tone of voice he said, “Do you want me to show you its real?”
At that moment I felt rage and my vision was obscured with a darkness that clouded any rational thought. I was not going to allow anyone to talk with me like that, regardless of who had the gun. Liz, seeing the tension that was building and knowing that the other guy was holding the gun, immediately stepped between him and myself and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll give you everything you need!”
Liz proceeded to give the guy her purse and reassure him. He looked at me and continued to press me for my money. I took out my wallet and all the cash I had was a dollar so I gave it to him. He asked me, if I had anything more and I told him “no,” and he ran off, got in the car with his friends and they drove away.
Looking back, I feel a deep gratitude to Liz for her courage and her willingness to put herself between me and harm without a second thought for her own safety. I’m also looking at myself and wondering why I’m so stubborn that I would rather die than allow anyone to force me to do anything against my will. In many ways this trait in me has been a gift and in many ways it has been a curse. This mindless reactivity has created many problems in my life where I make rash reactive decisions that have impacted my family and my relationships. On the other side, my uncompromising drive to follow my own path and be true to my inner guidance regardless of the external situation has been an incredible asset many times as well and has also led me in productive directions in life.
This fierce independence is a coping strategy that I developed in reaction to feeling powerless as I was growing up. It has operated somewhat mindlessly in my decision making process throughout my life and only in the last few years have I come to understand and consciously integrate the gifts of this compulsion in me and learn some control over the mindless reactivity when others are telling me what to do. In conflict with others, I have an improved ability to look at what is most helpful in the situation and make conscious choices about what is best rather than mindlessly letting my rebel take over. This greater self-awareness has created a new level of synergy and harmony in my personal relationships and helps me to make better decisions because I’m not mindlessly reacting to my unconscious compulsions as much as I used to.
This is the gift of life experience: The ability to self-reflect more and understand the patterns running your life and then begin to unplug from these past patterns and live in the present moment rather than be unconsciously controlled by the ghosts of your past. Learning from your life experience can be the beginning of the golden years of wisdom if you are willing to reflect on your life and learn the lessons of you past. However, if we stay stuck in old patterns of thinking and behaving, then we become more bitter and angry at others and the world for not being what we want it to be and instead of our golden years being the age of wisdom, we become more isolated and bitter.
Your life experience can teach you to release your fears and free your mind from the compulsions and dramas from your past, or you can clutch onto your fears and to your opinions like Scrooge grasping onto a penny. You can be right about all your ideas and opinions and judgments, or you can have a life of joy that works better for you and everyone around you.
Life operates by certain principles and you can learn and adapt to life challenges, tune into your intuitive knowing and learn to respond more effectively to any given situation or you can become more stuck in old ways. Think about it.