While getting shot at much less actually being shot is never a fun experience, it is surely formative in one’s life, especially if one is young. I recalled events in my own life the other day when I was at the ammo desk in our local Walmart (as there were especially low prices). As the clerk went to the back to the warehoused ammo in back of the store, a family of great grandfather, grandfather, and father with twin four year old daughters stopped to see about getting an extra small .22 rifle for the girls. It was clearly a military / law enforcement family and they wanted to familiarize the little ones early in life with that which they otherwise saw on a daily basis. Whatever one might think about that – and I myself think that four years old is too young to process what this kind of danger is all about – it served to trigger my own memories of being four years old.
I was out at Two Rivers Lake some miles from Saint Anna (of Lake Wobegon fame) with family and friends including the kids of my dad’s friends and associates. One kid my age had a C02 rifle and started shooting at me, utterly unprovoked, for target practice, no one having taught him gun safety. He was about 35 feet away and wasn’t a good shot, but I could hear the ammo flying next to my head. “What are you doing? Don’t you know those could hit me? Stop it!” Just more shots. There was a corn field just ten feet away from me, and it was late Summer, September 4, 1964, Labor Day, so the corn was already tall. I remember everything when I was a kid, provably, back to one year old, but I digress. I’ve written about that before. Anyway…
This was my first time being in full escape mode, my first time chasing through a corn-field. I fully remember learning on the spot in that very instance to strategize escape, running among the stalks with the rows until there was a space through which I could pop over sideways into another row without slowing down, making sure not to move the stalks of corn as that would give away my position, noting that my adversary could not keep up with me and was angry with himself that I had simply disappeared, he not having a clue about how to track his prey (even with my footprints in the soil). That I could play on this lack of his made me laugh, until I noticed that this particular gun was powerful enough to shoot ammo right through the corn. Run!
I can still hear the ammo ripping through the field all around me: shot shot shot shot shot shot shot. Some stopped short because of hitting the stalks. Some flew past me having only hit some leaves. “Tuh-tuh-tuh-tuh-tuh-tuh-tuh-tuh-” Finally: thud… smack in the middle of my forehead, where it stuck, and caused not only a welt and some bleeding, but a bump on my skull and a scar that has lasted to this day. It had to be dug out. “Stop shooting! You hit me!” I said that with a bit of force, enough to scare the kid. I don’t regret that. You gotta do what you gotta do to stop the threat, right? All this – a stategized escape, learning that I could think quickly and calmly under pressure, learning that gun violence can possibly come from emotions with which you can’t reason but which you can possibly control through use of one’s voice and smarts alone, learning to be situationally aware (especially with that kid anywhere near my vicinity), learning that I could be a victim of a crime, learning that I didn’t have to be a victim, learning that being smart is more effective than anything else, learning self-confidence, learning to size up others, and much more – all these were things that I learned at an impressionable age.
That’s the only time I was ever hit by any ammo, well, except by some BBs of a 12 gauge shot gun from some next door neighbors out in the woods from quite a distance, so it was more like getting hit by small pebbles. They had fired perhaps five times, shooting high in the trees but then lowering their aim. No harm done. Whatever. The escape was effected not by running, but simply by walking away quickly. It’s about mind control. Running might have had them shoot directly earlier. That wouldn’t have been good.
I had the same “shoot high” at first but then lower the range thing happen in a coup d’état in Fiji in the year 2000 at the Pacific Regional Seminary. Before the last of the faculty left, leaving me quite alone at the seminary, we had a meeting in a building closest to the parliament where the 21 hostages including the prime minister were being held. Gun fire commenced and one of the faculty members ran outside to see what was going on with the bullets flying through the trees. I ran out to get her to come back inside as she would not listen to reason from us who were remaining inside. I guess she thought she was being brave in seeing what was happening for us. I ran out and put my face in hers, commanding her rather forcefully to go back in. At that point she obeyed. By this time the bullets were no longer high in the trees but were lowering to just above my head, so, everyone else safe, back in I went as well. These were AK 47s. The shots were, I’m sure, just a warning to get out. In short order the rest of the teaching faculty left the country. The Admin and staff and students were long gone. My own bishop left me there. Fine. There were more incidents when I was there alone but there was nothing quite so directed as all that.
I again had the same “shoot high” at first but then lower the range thing happen just some months ago out at the hermitage, when I myself was doing some target practice. My adversary sent half a dozen rifle bullets smashing through branches and into trees just above me. Warning shots. Whatever. My response was not more target practice, but playing Handel’s Messiah on my phone.
Hey! It worked to get rid of the panther going after Laudie-dog a couple of years back at that same place, so why wouldn’t it work with some freaky human guy? Gun fire makes even the insects stop chirping and buzzing. He was close enough to hear the speakers of my little phone in that deathly quiet forest. It worked. Heh heh heh. I’m certain that Handel’s Messiah is not what was expected. Anyone who likes the Hallujah chorus that much can’t be all that bad, right? Or he must be harmlessly crazy, right? It was to laugh. Again, using your brain is always the best strategy. Had I reacted differently, not seeing him but him seeing me, things could have ended very differently very quickly. And he was there for a fight to the death. You don’t shoot at someone so many times in these mountains and not intend to fight to the death. Anyway, I’ve never given it a second thought. I’ve never had a problem since. I’ve probably made him mutter to himself until this very day: “It’s just that he played Handel’s Messiah on his phone… the Hallelujah chorus…” Heh heh heh.
Oh, I just remembered another time I’ve completely forgotten about until now. This was a sniper shot in the Autumn of 1999 over in Rome. I was up on the top floor of where I was staying, about 85 feet up from street level, a recreation room surrounded by picture windows. I was standing at this window with the exit door directly behind me. I loved to stand there and look out over the city of Rome while mulling over a doctoral thesis I was writing at the time on textual criticism of papyri manuscripts. I was getting creeped out by a window on the far side of a little valley in the city, enough to be distracting, and it was unrelenting. Wanting to think of things more academic, I simply turned to leave out the door onto the roof-patio on the far side of the building where I would pace back and forth to think in peace. But just as I turned out the door to the patio, that nano-second, I heard a sharp crash-crack sound and came back to investigate. I saw a small hole in the window where I had been and some bits of glass round about, but figured it was just someone who had thrown a rock up at the building just to do it, and that it was no big deal. Back I went to the patio and pacing oblivious to the world, thinking of manuscript symbols and dates and the “Reformation” and present day Church politics. But the next day and the next I would be back at that window, as was my custom while deep in thought. I let myself be distracted and noticed that a picture on the far wall from the window, just to the side of the door, has been broken by what I didn’t know, perhaps rough-housing while playing ping-pong. But then I looked at the window again. It was double-pane. It was then that I realized this had to have been a bullet. I followed the unmistakable trajectory (lining up the hole in the two panes), and it went directly to the hole in the picture inside the room. With that I followed the trajectory the other way, and that led me to a large-windowed room (one window always open) on a roof of a building (quite exactly the height of the one I was in) which, now using google-maps distance measuring tool, I find was 427 feet away.
I had always gotten a super-creepy feeling from that particular window. Now I knew why. Left-of-bang advice from those experienced in combat is that you should always take note of those super-creepy feelings. Your senses pick up on things that don’t register in your conscience brain except by way of such warnings as they are things so small you would never pay attention to them even if you did outright notice them. Anyway, no harm done. That didn’t stop me from hanging out at that window to check out the skyline of Rome before my usual pacing. I won’t be able to go back to that building if I’m ever in Rome to dig the bullet out of the brick wall since the building was sold some years ago. As I think of this, I have to wonder if this was a self-admitted terrorist from West-Africa whose confidence I had gained by befriending him by telling my always impossible stories. He couldn’t help himself. I’m so evil and bad that I know how to make friends with the most evil and bad people. I just have a knack for it. I’m sure he reflected on this later and knew he had said too much. He indicated the same to me when I had started to press him again for more info a week or so later, though I was being very clever, and he gave me even more info. I guess this was a way to take out a risk to his plans. I let the FBI know, as his plans involved these USA.
Anyway, there were plenty of other times I’ve had plenty of guns trained directly at me, rifles and AKs to pistols – not only in other places around the world but right here in Andrews – but nothing ever came of those incidents, so, whatever. I don’t care.
As long time readers know, I’ve only very recently thought of getting a concealed carry permit, since self-defense is a positive contribution to the virtue of justice and I actually had the possibility, now being Stateside, now having a place to practice, now knowing people who could give me some good advice.
But, just to say, my own personal history in all this has taught me that smarts are by far the best defense anyone can have. Learning to be a good shot is one thing, but learning how to escape or at least deescalate is by far the most important. Being disarming – charming, calm, smart, even using a rather commanding voice depending on circumstances – can actually work to disarm someone. That’s not always the case. But I’m happy to have been in some adverse circumstances, as close to being deadly as you can get, to know the difference, at least somewhat, as all circumstances are unrepeatable.
When all is said and done, the best thing to do is to be good friends with your guardian angel. He sees the face of God.