“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
For the past year or so, my Sunday evenings have been spent with a group of guys from my church. The time usually involves eating, catching up on each other’s lives, and going through a passage of scripture or a topic. Currently, we’ve been going through a series that explores the concepts of masculinity from a biblical perspective. The last time we met, we landed on the word initiative: What does taking the initiative look like? When in your life have you not taken the initiative when you should have? I came away that night troubled, as it brought to mind an event that happened years ago.
It was late 2008. My wife and I were taking a much needed weekend trip down to KC after becoming parents earlier that year. As new parents, its easy to slowly and almost imperceptibly drift apart when the lovable third wheel comes along, and we were no exception. The weekend would be a good opportunity to recharge our proverbial batteries and connect as a couple again and not merely as “mom and dad.” We dropped our son off at the in-laws and hit the road.
Because I was working for Marriott at the time, I was able to get us an employee rate at a hotel down on the Country Club Plaza, a sprawling shopping and entertainment district with beautiful Spanish inspired architecture.
The weekend started off well enough: Friday evening consisted of dinner and shopping on the Plaza. The Plaza is extraordinary at night; the half-sized replica of the Giralda Tower of Seville radiates like an urban lighthouse, ebullient patina coated fountains speak in unknown languages, and the weathered terra cotta roofs keep watch over it all. Saturday was spent at the amusement park Worlds of Fun, endlessly riding the different thrill rides, eating junk food, and enjoying each other’s company. I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.
It was early Sunday morning when Amber roused me from my sleep. “Keith, there’s a woman screaming in the hallway.” I reached up and flicked on the wall-mounted lamp, which softly illuminated the inky blackness. I rubbed the crusted sleep from my eyes and tried to catch my bearings. Sure enough, I could hear the screaming and pleading of a woman outside our door. In addition to the woman, there were other sounds: Slurred curse words coming from a male voice, nauseous thuds of flesh on flesh, and walls reverberating like rhythmic thunderclaps. As Amber was dialing the front desk to report the assault, our door rocked with the momentum of the woman’s body. She was begging the man to stop. My mind was racing. What are you doing just standing there like an idiot? Open the fucking door and let her in, you pussy…DO SOMETHING, GOD DAMN IT! In that moment, it was if my feet were glued to the floor. I was unable to think straight or move. I froze in terror, listening to the sounds of a woman being attacked and did nothing.
After what felt like an eternity, the man’s yelling ceased and he left. The woman’s soft cries, like a forlorn spirit, meandered down the hallway, until they too, could no longer be heard. I don’t remember much else of that night, other than we weren’t going back to sleep, so we went out a drive to clear our respective heads. As we pulled out of the parking lot, the red and blue lights of the police cars chased each other around the exterior of the hotel.
As I drove home from my friend’s house last Sunday, I thought about that night eight years ago. I had the chance to take the initiative, to do something tangible, and I didn’t step up. Whether it was a matter of self-preservation or not, I can’t remember. Yet, when I think about that night, I can’t help but feel like a hypocrite. I encourage my kids all the time to be leaders at their school, to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, and to call out bullies. I’m haunted by the fact that I didn’t follow my own advice eight years ago. Rather than protect a woman who wasn’t in a position to defend herself, I resigned myself to a gruesome spectator on the sidelines.
I think about that woman from time to time. I don’t have a clue as to what started the chain of events that night, but I hope she is doing well. I hope the police caught the man that assaulted her, and that justice was served. Perhaps this is a bit selfish, but I hope and pray that if I ever find myself in a similar situation again, I can step up and do something rather that stand by idly in fear.