Like most of the U.S. public I was transfixed this week by the fast-breaking news of the Boston Marathon bombing and the dramatic pursuit of the bombers. In their attempt to escape, the killers carjacked a Mercedes, forced the driver to withdraw cash from an ATM, and then let him go. Police have not told us his name, but he is one of the luckiest people alive. Amidst all the heartless murder and carnage they caused, the killers let him walk away unharmed.
Why? Did he say something to the Tsarnaev brothers that triggered a human connection? If so, what might it have been?
I remembered a story my pastor, Gordon Cosby told. Coming home one evening after a meeting he and his wife Mary smelled cigarette smoke as they approached their front door, purposely left unlocked. They’d been working with recovering alcoholics who smoked, and they thought perhaps one of them was inside, needing to talk.
Instead they were greeted by a man with a pistol, who ordered them to sit on the couch. Gordon’s unexpected response: “You don’t have to be afraid. We won’t hurt you.”
Unknown to Gordon and Mary their captor man was an escaped convict who had already terrorized and robbed several neighbors. Mary offered him tea. Gordon spoke of God’s love and forgiveness. “I’m a pastor of a little community that helps people in trouble. We can get you a lawyer. If you go to prison we’ll visit you, help you get a job and a place to live when you come out. Your life can change.”
The gunman seemed to be thinking it over. He kept them on the sofa all night long, but left them unharmed the next morning, taking nothing. Within 24 hours he was killed in a shoot-out with police.
Another true story: in the summer of 2010 an armed and masked robber invaded a back yard patio party on Capitol Hill. He held a gun on a 14-year-old girl and collected everyone’s money and jewelry. Then the hostess asked, “Would you like a drink?” The robber thought about it for a minute, holstered the gun, pushed up the ski mask, and sat down to join the conversation. After a few minutes he said, “I think I came to the wrong house. I’ll be leaving now. But before I go, can we have a group hug?” [I am not making this up.] Then he left, without the loot.
Gordon and Mary, like the Capitol Hill hostess, found a way to recognize and connect with their captors’ humanity and to inspire a different behavior, if only temporarily.
The next time I feel threatened, emotionally or otherwise, I hope I can remember these three things: help the other feel safe, show respect, and offer a vision of hope. Is that what the Merecedes owner did?