Safe and Sound

The Best Bodyguard
As a graduate student in Los Angeles, I was blessed with a dear friend who lived in San Francisco. When I needed to recharge after a grueling stretch of studies, my friend always welcomed me. I would drive to San Francisco on a Friday evening, camp out on Jeff’s sofa, and enjoy his company and the beauty of the city. Invariably when I returned home on Sunday, I felt renewed and ready to plunge into my studies once again.

A recent graduate himself, Jeff lived in a neighborhood called the Western Addition. At the time–over 20 years ago as I write–the neighborhood was rough. The people next door appeared to be drug addicts; Jeff’s basement apartment featured bars on the windows and a strong lock on the door. All the same it was my friend’s home, and he welcomed me, and so I went. Often.

One Saturday evening Jeff and I had gone out for a bite to eat and to hear some music. As always in this parking-challenged city, we took his motor scooter, leaving my Jetta at the curb. The scooter had the tremendous advantage of fitting into imaginary parking spaces, both while we were out and once we returned home. In Jeff’s neighborhood, it wasn’t wise to walk several blocks from a parking space to the apartment, especially at night.

On this particular evening, we stayed out very late, stopping for pancakes and coffee after a long evening’s entertainment. It was close to 3 A.M. as we rounded the corner onto his street. As the scooter chugged up the hill towards his apartment, I saw a man walking down the street. He made eye contact with me as we passed.

I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise as he altered his course, walking briskly up the hill, crossing the street at an angle, heading right for us. Jeff was occupied looking for a good place to park the scooter and chain it to a light post; he didn’t see the man.

Looking back, I should have said something. “Jeff,” I could have said, “this menacing-looking guy turned around when we rode up the street and he’s heading our way. Let’s go inside!”

But I said nothing. I stood there, transfixed, the dread growing within me, alarms ringing in my head…and the man was nearly upon us. By now no more than 30 feet stood between us. I remember wondering if he intended to steal the scooter, or rob us, or…..? I had that surreal sense that this event wasn’t really happening; I felt as if I was watching a suspense film.

It was too late to say anything. Jeff was kneeling as he wrapped his chain around the light pole and his scooter. His back was to the man; he didn’t know that this stranger was advancing upon us. Even if we ran for the front door, abandoning the scooter, we didn’t have time to unlock the door and lock ourselves inside. I had waited too long. I felt as if we were under water. Everything was dreamlike, black and white, and slow; I could hear my heartbeat. I murmered a prayer as I wondered if this was the feeling of impending death.

At that moment another man rushed out from the apartment next door to Jeff’s. He was pasty, sweaty, and trembling. “Hey, man! Do you have a pair of pliers?! We need some pliers in here!” I remember thinking that someone must have broken a needle and left it lodged in a vein.

Jeff stood to face the addict who lived next door. At that moment, the man who had been approaching us turned and walked, quickly and quietly, down the street in the direction from which he had come.

The surreal quality evaporated as Jeff told his neighbor that he had no pliers. The scooter secured, we made our way indoors to safety and rest.

5 The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as
your protective shade. 6 The sun will not harm you by day, nor the
moon at night. 7 The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches
over your life. 8 The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and
go, both now and forever.
Psalm 121:5-8 (NLT)