Category Archives: Situational awareness

This priest plays the criminal for fun. Reviewing saving the beaten woman.

situational awareness color codeLong ago in my priesthood I realized that the best way to be a good and holy priest (I’m still working on that, understatement of the year) is to play the criminal all the time. I’m forever explaining to people that I can see myself as being verification of the aphorism that goes “There (in that criminal way), but for the grace of God go I.” And because of that, I’m instantly aware of what people are up to; I’m not blind to all that which is bad and evil because I know that, but for the grace of God, I could be just like that.

If you congratulate yourself as a nice person – the Italians say persona per bene – you’re always in the white zone of situational awareness, you know, like the three monkeys covering eyes and ears and mouth, making sure that you’re the next victim of a criminal, who is, instead, thinking like a criminal. Criminals look for nice people, for those who oblivious to them. Sure, we’re to see the best in others, but to do that you also have to notice a couple of things: (1) any good in any of us is only because of God; (2) any one of us could slip from whatever goodness into crucifying the Son of the Living God. Be realistic. Criminals are always looking for nice people to be their next victims.

The yellow zone in situational awareness jacks things up just a bit, where you’re aware of ways to escape and deescalate any situation or conditions that you’re in. This can be a bit tiresome since so much of the time nothing happens. So, the way to make this fun is to play the part of the criminal and look for people who are in the white zone, noting how dangerous that is. People, looking at their phones, will walk right into light poles (I’ve seen it many times) or right out into traffic without looking (I’ve seen that too). But in this way you also instantly see others who are situationally aware, whether good guys being dutiful or criminals looking for targets. Good guys are obviously (to me) military or law enforcement. Situational awareness is a way of life. Very few civilians are in anything other than the white zone of oblivion, and have to go from zero to one hundred, from white to red (fight or flight). This means that they have no time with level orange, assessing a particular individual or group because of signals they are providing of their dangerous intentions. There is no extra time to reconsider paths of escape or how to fight the fight.

Thinking like the criminal is not to fall into the trap of having a darkened eye so that the whole soul is filled with darkness, which our dear Lord warns us against. What our Lord condemned is being so much in the totally self righteous zone that all those criminals and sinners (everyone else without exception) are held to be totally inept even at being criminals and sinners. Such a person is so dismissive of all others that they think they have no need for any situational awareness, not even of one’s own criminal soul in the face of God’s fierce judgment.

Playing the criminal, as it were, so to speak, for situational awareness, is actually a service to be able to help others out because you know where they are at.

About that lady who suffered a beating from her “boyfriend” the other day (Domestic battery on woman)…

I spoke about my intervention with a number of others who are well aware of guns and tactics and deescalation and prudence and they agreed that I had done the best I could in the situation. Even if I didn’t have any doubts about that, it is always good to get the insight of others in such events. When I heard the screaming I could have just left and pretend I didn’t hear anything, just shaking my head and thinking it’s all sad, but that’s the end of that. I just can’t.

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Tree felling: Blackest of Black Ops

tree felling

This tree, estimated to top out at a whopping 150 feet, as a double, was threatening both our social hall and classrooms-church buildings. I employed this most capable off-the-charts-skill-sets black ops guy while he was stateside for communications with the State Department for some days not only because he had all the equipment and know how and insurance, but because of who he employs and the conditions he sets for employment.

He gets young men coming from impossibly horrifically broken families and puts them to work to get them away from bad influences and requires that they are always enrolled in a class or classes to get their GEDs. As a result of his fatherly influence in their lives, they are awesome young men.

We spoke quite a bit about situational awareness, and, I must say, this bit about bettering those around him is the best way to go about situational awareness. It’s like a teacher engaging the most troublesome of troublemakers, making them leaders of their classes. Very cool, all of that, very cool indeed.

And then, off he goes in the blackest of black ops land, you know, the darkest of existential peripheries. I am honored to have met this guy. An inspiration. I think it’s good for priests to have lots of laity that they learn from in all sorts of ways.

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Flowers for the Immaculate Conception (No flowers this time of year edition)

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You may have heard that it was said: “There are no flowers this time of year, you know, compared to the springtime.” But you just have to know how to look. I was speaking about situational awareness and the ooda loop the other day with some Forestry crowd, and they were enthralled to know that I sharpened my situational awareness by noticing the out of the way flowers of the wilderness, saying this is a matter of love, of rejoicing in God’s creation out of love, a creature for his Creator.

The flowers above were found not far from the hermitage. Sure, there are no flowers in the usual places. A desert. But then you have to look in unusual places, and then of a sudden… they’re everywhere. But this is a matter of love. Let it be a matter of love. Let creation resound it’s speech of the Creator in your ears, in your heart, then, finally in your eyes. And then give what you find to the Immaculate Conception, Jesus’ good mom.

Just to say, if situational awareness is just a tactical pain in the butt to accomplish at every moment everywhere for the sake of self and the safety of others as a way to defuse situations, it just won’t happen. But if it’s accomplished out of love for the same reasons, hey!, this becomes a way of life. Then your eyes and ears and heart are opened to rejoice, to bring others to the Creator of us all.

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Counterintel Sunday: “Situational awareness already saved your life.”

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Duc in altum: Launch out to the heights above the depths! Since there are those who will be upset that I was out on a pontoon boat with a family of our parishioners up in Graham County, NC (coming up from Atlanta, GA) – since priests should never get a break – I should preface this by saying that my day started about 3:00 AM. After putting up some posts on the blog on Saint John Vianney and Our Lady of the Snows, it was time for Adoration with dozens of parishioners at 6:00 AM with silence, then rosary, mercy chaplet, Lauds, Confessions the whole time, Benediction. At 7:10 AM it was time to race up to Graham County for Adoration and Rosary and Confessions before Mass at 8:30 AM. Then race back to Andrews for Confessions and then Mass, followed by the social (with a Q and A on some apologetic questions), followed by Communion calls in the back mountains. It was only then, now already evening, that I raced back up to Graham County to finally get on the boat after some sixteen hours of non-stop apostolate.

But let’s back up to early Mass in Robbinsville. Mind you, this is not a place you go so as merely to pass through. It’s a purposed destination, that is, utterly off the beaten track. You have to have a reason to come, cycling, motorcycling, backpacking on the AT, kayaking or because you have a cabin, or… just because, which is always a good reason.

Sitting back in the confessional (with it’s massive window facing the church) with just a minute a two before Mass, I saw this fellow, my age, come in and take a seat. The very nano-second I saw him I thought to myself, “This guy’s CIA.” It sounds really weird, but it’s just a thing with me since forever, meaning, I don’t remember ever being wrong. (Of course, I wouldn’t know that, right?) Still, it’s kind of stunning to me that as far as I know, I’ve never been wrong with these kind of experiences. It’s always instantaneous.

At the end of Mass I mentioned the article in the bulletin on Joyce Kilmer, in which I had failed to explicitly mention the OSS, successor to Kilmer’s great example and immediate predecessor of the CIA. I apologized for not remembering the tri-letter designation but said it’s something like CSS, something to do with Strategic Services, and asked if anyone knew the original tri-letters. No one said anything.

Afterward, outside the church, the guy I was guessing was CIA and therefore who should know the answer came up and said that the letters were OSS. Ah yes, said I, Office of Strategic Services. He said he knew that because he had just now retired after 39 years in the CIA. Surely they had recruited him right out of high school. This guy just happened to come here for Mass. No family. No cabin. No A.T. No kayaking. Waaaaaay out of his way. Mind you, it’s all understandable. Right after retiring out you want a breather, a drive through the mountains, a break. It’s what I would do. So, there’s no there there. Just that I caught him out. Like clockwork. But I digress.

After arriving to the forest on the far side of the picture above in the pontoon, which was super relaxing, a good times memory, we putt-putted back to the cabin, about an hour round trip. A call was made to the neighbors, life long friends of my parishioners down in Atlanta who happened to have a cabin right next door. They had always been assigned to the same places in the military, and were both into the intel / surveillance thing.

The bagpipes came out. Amazing Grace and other pieces were squeezed out, echoing across the massive lake. Really loud. That was met with yelps of glee and appreciation by other lake dwellers far away with the quiet evening unbroken surface of the water permitting their voices to render thanksgiving at a distance. Then dinner.

The conversation of these ultra-super cultured people – leaving me entirely in the dust – roamed about the works of literary geniuses, military intel, rosary meditations, my own background[!].The intel guy kept coming back to my growing up in Minnesota and to various aspects of what kind of photographic memory I had, provably, since I was one year old. He was super interested in what I perceived to be the value of humint, the whys and wherefores. At one point the intel guy seemed to have had a sufficiency to make a decision. He locked eyes with me and kept hold of my eyes with his deadly serious though soft-spoken and each word accentuated and individuated tone of voice: “What is certain, I’m telling you this, what is certain is that your situational awareness has already saved your life. It has already saved your life. You are to continue with your situational awareness.”

I think his assertion immediately brought the conversation to what kind of dessert we would all like. Of course, I had no problem saying that I didn’t see a problem in sampling some of everything. Homemade cake, various kinds of ice-cream and deli toppings, the works. :-) Meanwhile, as you might imagine, the “already saved your life” comment came to mind. Maybe it’s just the way he said it: “already.”

Yesterday, from 3:00 AM until about mid-night, was absolutely pleasant. Refreshing. Perfect. Holy Mass at both churches. Adoration. The CIA guy: humble, happy guy. Racing about for Communion calls. The boat ride. The scrumptious dinner. The leave-me-in-the-dust conversation with the intel guy. The desserts. The super peaceful drive back through the mountain passes. The greeting back at the rectory by the puppies, Laudie-dog and Shadow-dog. But then the comment: “Your situational awareness has already saved your life. You are to continue with your situational awareness.”

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Road Danger: Natural disasters

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This is one of the many hair-pin turns on the one-lane no-fault gravel road winding its way high atop the back ridges near the hermitage. On this particular turn – imagine this – we had a tractor trailer (an extended flatbed with forklift at the back) who, having made the turn, had the cab in far ditch on the one side and the 75 foot trailer spanning the ravine and being held up by its back set of tires on the other side, totally blocking the road with no other way around except to backtrack and circle around the mountains, fully 10 miles to get to the highway below instead of just 2. And what if there was a forest fire, as there was a while back, smoke everywhere. I think of Guatemala, of Hawaii.

Anyway, notice the washout, big enough to break off a front wheel and throw a vehicle sideways into the ravine. They can appear within hours with hard rains, and do. Right now there are many axle-breakers. Being a one lane road and the inside of the curve, the washout is is where people drive to make the sharp turn, all things being equal. But nothing is ever equal.

You have to have constant situation awareness, which is not just for emergency situations. This picture was taken on a beautiful day, sunshine, flowers blooming, birds singing. And then…

One will be caught off guard in the spiritual life if one is trusting in nice circumstances. “I’m doing fine! And everything is nice!” No. We must continuously be in humble thanksgiving mode before Jesus with all joy – however stressed out we can be. If not, we are trusting in ourselves and there’s not much there to trust in there.

Is this low self-esteem? It is actually low self-esteem to trust in oneself, to congratulate oneself, to think that one is one’s own savior, that one doesn’t need to be carried along in the friendship of Jesus, for then, merely trusting in ourselves, we are undercutting what we could be, that is, good friends with Jesus. Why undercut ourselves? Low self-esteem? So, it is actually great self-esteem to be good friends with Jesus, to be saved by Him, to be held in His friendship, to be in humble thanksgiving mode, and, in this way, to have constant situational awareness. A disaster could come along at any moment…  expectedly. We’re always looking for deescalations of situations, but in the spiritual life, this is done in a most pleasant way, by the love of God, with the joy of being loved by God.

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Dog poop, custody of the eyes, situational awareness, spiritual life

Observing the saints in Rome such as Aloysius Gonzaga, one will surely be impressed by their humble custody of the eyes. Or so said a fellow seminarian way back in the day before making the sardonic comment that this was merely the way to avoid stepping on dog poop. There’s been dog poop at that narrow almost unavoidable spot near the Angelicum for the past 40 years. I check. But it’s not a matter of looking only at dog poop or otherwise your soul being as good as dog poop. No no. You can have situational awareness and be entirely chaste with blazing purity of heart and agility of soul regardless of what you otherwise see in decadent sleazy Rome or anywhere else in this world of exile away from our heavenly homeland. And that involves a friendship of humble thanksgiving with our Lord. And that involves something for which to be humbly thankful. That involves Confession. Love of God is love of neighbor. And vice versa. Love of neighbor is love of God.

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UPDATE: Jedi mind tricks vs robbery twice yesterday [most dangerous guy]

[[[UPDATE: I did a bit of investigation and found out that the guy who accosted me twice was the guy I thought he was. He’s one of the most dangerous people in Western North Carolina and has a standing arrest order on like half of all state owned properties in this entire region. The Jedi mind trick worked even with him. Good to know.]]]

You never think it will happen to you, until it does.

There are retired operators of whatever background who offer classroom shakedowns for pay, that is, for students of situational awareness and deescalation, very useful exercises. But I don’t get the part about paying for this. Guardian angels will provide all the incidents you could ever want and more. Yesterday, for example, I had two would-be incidents, would-be except for my guardian angel and the Jedi mind tricks I employed. It’s especially important to learn the Jedi thing here in Andrews since I’m now guessing that for the unforeseeable future we will have no actually local police for a number of reasons. And the local riffraff know it. Such is small town drama.

Our town politicians will be upset with the first fifteen seconds of the above video, but this is what Andrews is fast becoming with what amounts to little law enforcement. It’s true that the county deputies come into town to look for the riffraff they are after to effect their arrest warrants, and they are a most welcome sight. Wherever you see them, however, you also know that the riffraff they are after are very close by. That’s a good heads-up.

Yesterday, for instance, I was returning from a Communion Call, driving past the DMV, and there was deputy […] in full uniform but in his unmarked black dodge charger pulling in behind me from the direction of our little church. This reminded me to come back and get my soon-to-be-required-by-everyone-in-North-Carolina Gold Star Federal ID card issued in my case as a North Carolina biometric driver licence. The picture, taken by a special multi-lens camera looking ever so much like a Star Wars droid, has 12 measurement points which are inimitable, so that not even plastic surgeons at Liberty Crossing Campus at McLean can mimic what is measured, such as center of pupil to center of pupil. Foiling one won’t foil the others. My very first thought, however, was “Who’s the deputy after?” But before going to the DMV, I needed to fill up at our local BP gas station. He stayed on my bumper until I pulled into the BP and then disappeared somewhere.

First incident

Just as I had paid-at-the-pump with a debit card and had placed the hose-pump into the gas-tank receiver of Sassy the Subaru, a riffraff looking guy, about 6′.6″ tall (even I had to look up), coming out of nowhere, tried to make his way to me around that pump station. With all my situational awareness, blah blah blah, I hadn’t seen him. Don’t be upset with me for that riffraff description. I’m riffraff myself and know riffraff the second I see riffraff. Birds of a feather and all that. Anyway, he was so intent in getting right in my face that he couldn’t see the window-squeegee-combo-trash-buckets in front of him, and, running into them, was getting frustrated. With that, I knew that all was not right, that the guy was perhaps a bit drugged up, and so I started to back away. But, I gotta hand it to the guy for being clever. He was using the “I-really-want-to-speak-with-you-but-I’m-not-going-to-speak-to-you-until-I’m-an-inch-from-your-face-and-I’m-keeping-eye-contact-so-as-to-make-you-feel-obliged-to-let-me-do-that” trick. Not able to get closer in just that three seconds, he stated that he wanted my money. Twice.

I said to him with joyful alacrity and an abundance of confidence, now using his own eye-contact trick against himself, that, “It’s really NOT smart to shake down people for money at gas station pumps.” Glare-glare-glare. My glaring worked. With that, he stepped back, but only to go around the pump station for a sneak-attack. Just as he was coming around the other side, even as I was taking the pump-hose out of the side of the car to hook up in the pump station once again – a pretty vulnerable position – I saw him consider the joyful alacrity with which I had said NOT smart.” He stopped and reckoned for another second, then turned and walked away. Hah. Thank you guardian angel. I noted he was walking in the direction of town (where the DMV is).

Second incident

After spending quite a bit of time with the most wonderful church secretary in the world, I made my way to the DMV for that biometric Gold Star driver licence, where I had seen deputy […] looking for someone. I pulled into the DMV parking lot. With all my situational awareness, blah blah blah, I hadn’t seen the same riffraff guy (this being exactly one mile away). As I got out of the car and before I could even lock the car, he was right on top of me, an inch away, the trick of practiced pickpockets. Again, very clever. The entrance of the building is kind of in a side alley blocked from view of the inside of the building and from most everyone on the street. That’s where he had me. People going into the DMV to do document work are just as likely to already have their wallets and documents in hand while getting out of the car and going into the building. That was the case with me. Stupid me. His question this time was not about money but about whether or not I was there to try to get a driver licence (I had driven up) and that’s what he was trying to do for a really long time. He was eyeing the wallet and documents an inch away. Bolting for the door would be useless. Time for a Jedi mind trick, again. I fully turned to him and said with rather stern but joyful alacrity and confidence: “Yes, a driver’s licence… THAT’s what I’m trying to do.” Glare, glare, glare. My glaring, as a challenge, combined with the joyful but rather to the point confidence had him back off and disappear. Thanks, guardian angel.

Long time readers know that I carry. Not that I had any firearm on me. I did not. They are not allowed in the DMV, of course. Criminals also know that the safest place for them to commit crime is in gun-free-zone, or, hey, in a parking lot of a building that is a gun-free-zone, because, although the parking lot is not a gun-free-zone, no one in that parking lot will have such a tool with them.

Mind you, I’m 6’2″, 250 pounds (still), wear a 5-11 tactical shirt with collar (because I’m more elephant than donkey), and this guy still thought I was an easy target. Twice. Druggies, I’m thinking, are having a tough time if they are being kicked off the welfare system as their excuses are found to be invalid by real doctors.

Oh, it’s him

Oh, wait a minute. I think I recognize him. He’s the guy who, at a certain garage getting my tires changed out, towered over me, an inch away from me, as I sat low to the floor on a couple of stacked tires, waiting for my tires to be changed. I was there, again with my Roman Collar on, a Catholic priest, obviously, with him saying to me (a white boy and a foreigner – born outside the county – and from a state of Northern Aggression, Minnesota), he saying to me that: “We don’t like N*****s around here,” trying to be as threatening as he could be, you know, just an inch away from me, and me being as white as white can be. I just shrugged my shoulders and asked a question about the tires, diffusing the situation. I remember having asked about him later. Apparently, the guy really is clever. If I remember correctly, he was in fact trained up to analyse the criminal mind. And then he became a criminal.

Mind you, I try to be practiced as well with situational awareness, but this guy, trying not to be seen until he was on top of me, was better than me, druggy or not. A good lesson. I bet he’s the one the deputy was after.

So, look at that. Being practiced in Jedi mind tricks and depending on one’s guardian angel is the way to go, even with someone like this.

That’s an eye-opener for me – two experiences like this in one day – and I thought I would share that with you. It’s not just a good lesson. It’s an important lesson.

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Road rage tender snowflake tantrums and peaceful situational awareness

road danger nantahala gorge

A view in front right where the slow-moving-vehicle right lane just quits.

Situational awareness involves always having at hand a number of ways to deescalate a potentially dangerous situation. This is especially useful in road rage situations, which, it seems to me, are on the increase for the reason that road rage is all about the tender snowflake entitlement mentality of “it’s all about me.” There are so very many tender snowflakes these days. Very few have their identity in their Creator, Christ Jesus. Nothing to do about that until they get to know the self-sacrificing love of Jesus, with some goodness and kindness and respect for others. So, patience and a good example is what’s best. In a dangerous situation, give them what they want, which is that the road is for them and nobody else. I don’t want to die and I don’t want to see anyone else hurt, not even the tender snowflakes.

I tend to go right at the speed limit, or, as I like to tell people, just a 1/2 mile an hour under the speed limit so that I don’t ever get a speeding ticket from a State Trooper in the area who gives everyone a ticket who is going just a half mile an hour over the speed limit. But anyway, it’s a known fact that speeding up a couple of miles an hour enrages road-ragers. So I just go the speed limit. It’s also just safer with all the blind drive-ways and the possibility of hydro-planing because of misconstructed roads and fallen-trees after a rain so very common in the gorge. Speed limits are there for a reason.

Well, last evening as dusky dark, coming back from Bishop Curlin’s funeral, passing through the Nantahala Gorge, which is pretty much double-yellow no-passing for miles and miles, I noted a group of cars going waaaaay over the speed limit zipping up behind me, driving really aggressively among themselves, enraging each other like yellow-jackets attacking a hornet’s nest, with all the more raging when they got behind me, what with me going only the speed limit. Now I was a common enemy to the lot of them.

There’s a courtesy lane for slow moving vehicles to move into for a few hundred yards right at the end of the gorge, so I thought I would get in that, fearing that if I didn’t, they would pass on the right and knock me into oncoming traffic on the left. Yes, that happens… lots of cross-markers for deaths that way. Or they might otherwise just pass on the double-yellow going up the mountain to Topton, likely, then, to kill themselves and others on the blind curves, causing head-on collisions. The passing on the double-yellow thing is a way of life here in the mountains. Lots of deaths that way too, but, it seems, no one really cares. But this crowd was particularly a raging sight to see. So, all situationally aware, I let them pass while I got into the slow-moving-vehicle-lane.

I knew I would have to slam on the brakes in the all-too-short lane as there is no one polite on the road anymore it seems, and the entire line of traffic would surely try to pass me whether I crashed out or not. I don’t like crashing!

Here’s the video from the back window of Sassy the Subaru as the tantrums of the tender snowflakes unfolds.

Note all the angry honking as they passed, ever so angry that I was only going the speed limit. It’s kind of humorous in a sad sort of way in that it’s all so predictable. The more tender snow-flake one is, the more angry one becomes. You know: tough tender snowflakes. Honk honk honk. It’s a tender snowflake world. That sounds like a song title.

I’m not saying that these guys did anything wrong at all. But real road ragers who actually endanger others should have some sort of punishment like sporting huge car-magnets for a month which say “I’m a tender snowflake throwing a tantrum.” Then they pay a fine to cover the cost and replacement of the magnet if they throw it away or if they don’t have it on their vehicles during the required period. I’m so bad and evil. But really, it seems that driving is getting to be a barometer of the soul. Does no one have the ability to just take it down a notch?

Jesus, save us. Give us a sense of identity in you. Don’t permit any of us to be tender snowflakes. Make us tough, that is, Lord, have us be good and kind and courteous and polite and respectful. Have us be safe so that we can be good stewards of soul and body, which are to be tabernacles of the Holy Spirit, at peace and peaceful, joyful in your presence. Amen.

At peace and peaceful. Joyful. Amen.

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