I love my neighborhood. It’s families and college students and people with dogs and ice cream trucks. I have trains on either side of my apartment, beautiful views of the sunset from atop the hill, and the neighborhood is peppered with great little parks. They’re great to me at least.
One such park is across the street from my apartment. It has a few different playgrounds, a couple swing sets, a basketball court and two very tall, very colorful murals which make leaving my apartment in the morning a little easier. I have to endure puppy eyes as I head for the door each day and anyone who’s had to endure puppy eyes knows what a wrench they can throw in your day.
Many nights, I walk with Joey—the furry, needy animal with the aforementioned puppy eyes—across the street so he can do his business while I catch up with a friend over the phone. There’s a ledge against the fence that wraps around the small park and on nice nights, I sit on the ledge and talk while Joey makes friends with other puppy-eyed animals. This has been our routine for the past year and a half and it suits us fine.
Tonight was one of those nice nights so it made sense to take my time outside. There’s something about summer nights I really take to. Summer days, not so much. But summer nights, when it’s warm but not scorching and the neighborhood seems to bloom to life and congregate outdoors, I love those. So, I spent some time catching up with a friend while I sat on the ledge, minding my business, as I’ve done two other nights this week.
As I talked on the phone and watched Joey sniff everything within his leash’s radius, I felt a white-hot slap between the back of my head and my right ear. Startled, I turned around to see a short kid, probably 10 or 11 years old, running away with a couple friends who were a little taller and a little older than him. I stood up and calmly told my friend on the other end of the phone, “A kid just hit me in the back of the head from between the bars of the park fence,” and I began slowly walking toward the entrance to the park.
Anger. What I felt was anger. I felt it begin at the place where the boy slapped me in the ear and I felt it work its way down toward my chest. Slowly, I walked over as the kids emerged from the entrance of the park.
“Are you looking for a fight?” one of the taller-yet-not-tall-at-all boys asked me.
I beg your pardon? He thought a 6’2, 36-year-old man who is roughly four times as wide as him was looking for a fight with a handful of tiny children? Is that their go-to reaction when confronted? Are they so conditioned to believe someone is out to retaliate that they need to puff out their baby boy chests and act like they’re grown?
That hit me hard. Though my ear was ringing and I could still feel the pain against the side of my head, I realized these kids have absolutely no concept about much of anything. My pain was their immature pleasure and any further reaction from me would only reinforce their view of the world: people are out to retaliate and we have to fight back. When I was their age, my biggest worry was what might happen on Power Rangers next week or if I got the part I wanted in the children’s musical at church. These kids live in an entirely different world with entirely different realities and that made me really, really sad.
But also, I knew if they tried to hit me again, I could end up breaking their arm or leg out of reactionary self-defense. To that end, I had Joey with me and as much as he’s not my child—I’m not that guy who thinks of his pet as his son because he’s very much a dog who licks his own butt and poops in the street—if one of those little miscreants did anything to my dog…I’d probably end up on the news.
So, I took a breath and said, as calmly and with as much of Christ’s love as I could muster, “No you idiot. I’m not looking for a fight. Just don’t slap strangers in the back of the head!”
The boys scurried back into the park rather quickly and I began walking toward my apartment building. I needed to get back inside. This nice summer evening was officially over and it was now necessary to spend the next three hours watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and eating my body weight in popcorn. As I went to cross the street, a short, round girl who’d been trying to see what all the fuss was about asked, “Did he really just hit you in the head?”
I confirmed he did to which she responded, “He’s a little shit. I’m sorry he did that.”
I thanked her for apologizing for him, she didn’t have to do that, and though I didn’t say it aloud, I agreed that he was, in fact, a little shit.
Here’s what I know. I was not slow to anger this evening. I was quick to anger. I need to work on that. Yes, I was provoked. An idiot child slapped me as hard as he could in the back of my head for no other reason than it was fun to slap the big white guy. But as mad as I was (am still am if I’m being entirely transparent because no one likes to get hit in the face for no reason), I mostly feel bad for those kids. They have no concept. They have no discipline. They have no one telling them it’s not okay to slap strangers in the park. I was able to walk away knowing I did nothing wrong except maybe wish a whole lot of ill will on them in the moment. Okay yes, I did call him an idiot to his face. But even Jesus flipped a table every now and then.
Ryan’s book of essays, I Feel God in This Cab, is available here.