It was 7 years ago when I was a doctoral student at the University of Florida. A few of my friends from church got together to watch Forest Gump and finished up late around 1:30. My car and another turned onto Tower Road to go home. When I was just about to make my turn to get home up I-75 I noticed something strange in my mirror. There was a large Lincoln behind us with its lights off. The Lincoln began to turn his lights off and on, off and on. I thought that was a little strange and I wanted to make sure that the girls in the other car got home safe so I didn’t make my turn to go home. Instead I followed the car full of my friends as long as the Lincoln was behind us. We made a right-hand turn to head toward the University of Florida. So did the Lincoln. Lights off, lights on, lights off, lights on. When we would get to a traffic light I would get in the left lane to avoid him pulling up alongside the girls. This worked for a while until we got to a red light and the Lincoln got in the middle turn lane. He was now alongside the girls’ car and a Honda Accord pulled up next to mine. I didn’t think anything of it because I was focused on the Lincoln and making sure the girls were safe (little did I know at that point my future wife was driving the car full of girls!).
Then it happened. I got that feeling that someone was watching me. I turned and looked to my left and saw that the four or five men in the Honda were all looking at me. The one in the back passenger seat had his faced pressed hard up against his window and was grinning his gold teeth at me and nodding slowly up and down with a look on his face that said, “I am going to kill you.” My blood turned ice-cold and the hair on my arms stood on end. My psychological training kicked in. I knew in an instant that if I showed them the least bit of fear, I was done for. In moments like that the fight or flight instinct kicks in and I knew that these men thrived on people being afraid and fleeing. Flight was not an option. The only option was to hold my ground and show no fear. Without a flinch, a hesitation, or a bit of fear in my expression I looked him straight in the eyes and I gave him the nod. You know the nod I am talking about, the quick tilt your head up, “what’s up” kind of nod. Then I turned my head and looked straight ahead down the road as if to say, “You don’t scare me a bit…try it and see what happens.”
The next thing I knew the left turn arrow turned green and the Lincoln and the Honda left. I followed the girls home to make sure they got there safe. They had noticed the Lincoln and the lights but had no idea about the rest of the story. The next morning I turned on my radio to catch the news and those men were the story of the day. They had carjacked a man for the Honda and had been robbing and shooting people. I knew at that point I had made a decision that may have saved my life and it reminded me just how quickly life can be over. In a later conversation with my brother, who is a Marine Corp officer, I learned that he has used that story in instructing Marines about fear and confidence.
I don’t really have a great application to make aside from saying that it is times like that when you gain a greater appreciation for life and for peace.