(06/13/2006)
By Drew Moody
For the Hur Herald
drewmoody@verizon.net

Much of the day Sunday was preoccupied with thoughts of 'not driving' a car, as I had been for much of the previous 16 hours or so. It was an uneventful return from a tremendous Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks concert in Virginia. Uneventful, that is, until my wife and I reached Weston.

Take it literally when I say I believe there are times when we all have the ability to experience moments of "heightened awareness." Even our seeming infinitely poor choices will not ultimately diminish our inner human potential.

So at about 1:30 p.m. my wife and I arrived at the Weston Sheetz store on Route 33. Our journey was nearly concluded.

I was intent on filling up my coffee mug. As I crossed the store I strolled past a woman I'd never seen. She appeared to be in her late-30s.

I immediately "felt" something was amiss with her. Inner alarms went off. I scanned the store, attempting to piece together an invisible puzzle. I correctly connected her, I discovered later, with an obviously anxious or angry man at the opposite entrance. I sensed danger.

Right…I can hear your thoughts. This is a fellow who's lacking drama in his life and has an inventive imagination. A conspiracy theorist….

As my wife and I paid for our coffee I quietly told her something was wrong, offering a warning there may be problems in the store. Because she's seen these types of events play out many times, she trusts my intuition. I explained I'd fill her in when we returned to the car. Meanwhile, I kept watching the pair, waiting for something to happen.

Within seconds after returning to the car I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw the man again, now outside the store. He was yelling at a young woman - a new character in the unfolding drama.

The man grabbed the slender young lady by both her arms shaking her violently. He was about 6-2, 200 pounds; she was 5-5, maybe 100 pounds wet. The image was most unpleasant; she looked like a lifeless rag doll.

Her neck was thrust back and forth with such force it looked like it may break. He did this repeatedly. Violence often escalates quickly in these types of situations.

I exited the car, paused for a second and headed directly to a pay phone, dialing 9-1-1. I paused only long enough to decide the situation, at that juncture, didn't warrant a direct confrontation with the perpetrator. I did locate a weapon (cases of pop) if I needed to forcefully stop his assault.

"What is the nature of your emergency," the operator asked. I explained the situation and requested police respond immediately. I was also wondering, if he would do this in plain sight what might he do to her in private?

In less than two minutes a Lewis County sheriff's deputy entered the lot and blocked the van from exiting its parking space. He briefly questioned the occupants. They apparently denied the incident occurred. Since there was no blood and no victim complaining, he let them go.

I walked over to Deputy Clayton, a thoughtful young man, and said, "If they told you nothing happened they lied." And then (I guess) the magic words, "I'm willing to testify in court."

To his credit, and my great appreciation, he jumped back in his SUV cruiser and chased down the suspects on Interstate 79. The West Virginia State Police arrived at the scene and took over that part of the investigation. Deputy Clayton returned to obtain a witness report from me. The deputy said after he stopped the suspects the second time they admitted the assault had indeed occurred.

In the deputy's absence I had canvassed the store for additional witnesses, and the sympathetic store manager reviewed surveillance tapes for potential evidence. The matter will now unfold itself as it will - in court or otherwise.

Besides my wife, there were other witnesses. But no one came forward. No one else attempted to call 9-1-1. No one, aside from the Sheetz store manager, offered help. The Sheetz location was literally packed with customers at the time. As many as 35 people may have seen this act of violence.

A secondary, but genuine, burden playing like a subtext to this drama is the individual and collective non-action. Why?

Later I asked my wife if I had metioned I was calling 9-1-1 when I quickly exited the car. She said, "No, I just knew you were going to do something."

She had confidence that I would indeed "do something."

I've been put in a similar position many times in my life. In three of those cases it may have been a matter of "life and death." But I always DID SOMETHING. I have never elected to be a passive witness to an unfolding tragedy.

What is the nature of circumstances challenging our willingness to act?

There are at least two points to be made here.

One, a plea to at least consider not being a mute witness to injustice. And secondly, reverberating a fact that I believe we too often forget - we can "make a difference." One voice can indeed turn into a chorus. The concept incorporates the direct opposite of a "going along to get along" attitude.

I've been blessed by having many great teachers, despite me being such a poor student.

There are a few basic concepts echoed throughout the ages.

One is to try to remember the suffering of one person is also humanity's collective suffering as well. It's been restated many ways. The concept applies equally to our friends and foes - including divisions crossing national, cultural, and religious borders.

The same principle directed at parents, suggests we should strive to care as much about what happens to a stranger's child, as our own. And, the kicker - anything less is a reflection of selfishness. Now there's a challenging one to get your arms around.

One individual went as far as making the radical suggestion we should strive to be ever concerned for the least among us, putting them even before our own self-interest.

If qualities like these are worth aspiring to, then those principles create a background for us to examine our unfolding life-masterpiece. As you paint your masterpiece, readying it for show & tell in a future day of reckoning, what changes might you want to make before the canvas dries?

Maybe if we were less caught up in our own dramas, we'd realize we're all flawed and "needy" on some level. And, there are times when we all need help.

It could be your neighbor, a stranger or an innocent child.

But it's much easier to talk about conviction than to live it. Or, discuss the passion of your beliefs without being burned by them. An Indian medicine woman once put it like this, "It's not enough to talk-the-talk; you've got to walk-the-walk."

More convenient still is vicariously witnessing a tragedy on television, saying how awful it is, while ignoring worse events just across the street.

Some tragedies are just waiting for a counter-action to end them. Maybe waiting for you to call 9-1-1? Waiting for someone to stand their ground, even if it comes with a price. Don't be fooled, silence has a price too.


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