Is there such a thing as safety?

Sometimes this grim fact hits me: The world is not a safe place.

I don’t normally watch or read the news. It usually just depresses the hell out of me so I avoid it. I suppose that’s an ostrich way of dealing with life but sometimes a person can only take so much bad news, you know?

But over the weekend I read about Meredith Emerson and Shannon Harps. It’s not unusual to hear about people being murdered or going missing. Maybe it takes a certain combination of timing and awareness for such horrible tragedies to pierce one’s safety bubble, to strike such a deep cord in oneself that the reverberations just keep resounding.

I just cannot stop thinking about either of them.

Meredith Emerson went hiking on New Year’s Day and has not yet been found but authorities say that the outlook for finding her alive is bleak. Five days after her disappearance on a hiking trail, they’ve only found bloody fleece tops and her ID and wallet in a dumpster and her dog, Ella, wandering a parking lot. A man, Gary Michael Hilton, has been arrested as the primary suspect. He was the last person seen with her though Meredith didn’t know him. Her family has been up for days, sleeplessly trying to find her.

Shannon Harps lived less than 6 blocks from me. She was stabbed to death in front of her newly purchased condo on New Year’s Eve around 7pm. The 31 year old Sierra Club worker was coming home from the store (the same store I shop at weekly), about to get ready to head out to a New Year’s Eve party. Neighbors heard her screams but by the time the police showed up, her attacker was gone. Shortly later she was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Her assailant is still at large.

I can’t stop asking WHY. Why did this happen?

I taught self-defense to women for almost ten years while I lived in Santa Cruz. I saw women come to my classes electric with fear and feeling powerless to protect themselves. I watched them transform- shedding trepidation and finding their voice, their inherent fierceness, their righteous strength. I know they left feeling stronger than when they came but all the strikes, kicks, yells and release maneuvers can’t keep them entirely and 100% safe. I get that it’s better than nothing but still. . . when I hear about attacks like the ones Meredith and Shannon faced I wonder. . . can we ever really protect ourselves?

And that question simultaneously royally pisses me off and makes me very afraid.

For all my years of training and teaching, I am not immune to fear. I might possess a fierce yell or powerful kick and palm strike. I might know how to flip someone off of me who has pinned me to the ground or walk assertively and be aware of my surroundings. I might be a total fucking bad ass and yet, I could be Shannon or Meredith. Because horrible things happen every day. Horrible things that have no explanation, yet someone is dead.

Now, walking the 7 blocks to The Fella’s apartment doesn’t seem like a very good idea anymore. Even as I got out of the car tonight and The Fella drove off, with only 10 steps to my front door, I felt that heightened awareness prick my senses. I felt the fear ignite me as I quickly made my way to the porch, the key already out in my hand.

We shouldn’t have to live like this.

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36 thoughts on “Is there such a thing as safety?

  1. I wish I had the words to comfort you. Be gentle with yourself. Bad things happen, and all too frequently it is all we hear about (damned sensationalism)…But, really, there is so much more good than bad in the world…Sometime we just have to look a little harder to find it.

  2. When I was a young twenty-year-old, new to Vancouver, I would not leave my apartment after dark. I was THAT scared.

    I got braver, but not any less cautious. I took up kick boxing.

    I now live in a very small town, out in the sticks. Stories like these make me feel happy about my decision to live here.

    Not that I couldn’t kick ass is if I needed to. Because I totally could πŸ˜‰

  3. I think that all we can really do is prepare ourselves for the unknown any way that we can. It’s unfortunate that there are bad people out there who will shatter lives without thinking twice about it but at the same time we have to try not to live in that bubble of fear. Even being cautious and having a hieghtened awareness can help. I echo everyone else’s regards to stay safe.

  4. Authors of another blog I read were good friends with Shannon Harps. Ever since reading their entry, I haven’t been able to stop thinking of when I lived all by my lonesome in a basement apartment off of Montlake. I was so vulnerable at that time, but so trusting.

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE be so careful out there.

  5. I’m sorry Sizzle. I know what you mean about that kind of fear that gnaws away at you inside. It’s about Safety.

    It’s good that you have your defense training to hold tight to and fall back on. It is a real skill, and you know what to do, and how to help other women regain a sense of empowerment too.
    Don’t let Fear win. Remember your skills, and seize your inner bad-aass!

  6. I thought I read this morning that they found a missing hiker. Could that be Meredith? I think the stabbing at the store near my home would freak me out too. Do you still shop there?

  7. I hate watching the news too. Depressing, disgusting, scary.

    As for fear – I think the best we can do is to be as alert and prepared as possible, and not let it keep us from doing what we want to do.

  8. You’re right – bad things happen all too often. And it gives us pause. Forces us to be assertive. Know your surroundings. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. And so on.

    The news is so sensational these days. Rarely are the good stories uncovered. Instead, the media pushes us into a state of fear. However, don’t forget all the good things that go unmentioned. And there are many.

    Leave the bad stuff as a warning at the door. But, let the good stuff help you lead your life. It’s the only way to live.

  9. Hearing stories like these make me physically sick. It’s just so… unbelievable. And I too, avoid the news because of it. And I know that that may be niave and whatever else, but it’s just so… scary. I guess all we can do is just be more aware of our surroundings. But you’re right, you can never truly be 100% safe. And that’s really scary.

  10. Those two events are very scary, especially the one happening so close to home. I know that after a couple of shootings (all perpetrated by people who knew the victims, not at all random) in our neighborhood, I still hesitate to walk by myself near those areas, and definitely try not to walk even with others around there after dark. I grew up in a small, extremely safe and close-knit community where there have been very few murders ever, and so dealing with big city issues has been hard for me. I hope that your sense of safety and comfort returns and does so soon. It’s no fun to be anxious around the place you call home.

  11. Interesting that you wrote about that…. you were the first person I thought about when I heard about the stabbing. It was so close.
    I hope your feeling of safety returns soon.

  12. You’re right, we shouldn’t have to live like this. But that’s the way the world is now. We never used to have to lock our doors back in the day, either.
    Sadly, it was probably also not a good idea to go hiking alone without some sort of protection against an attacker. Also a good bit is about being aware of your surroundings. Still very sad though. NEVER let down your guard.

  13. It sucks being afraid, and I’m sorry that you were affected that way. I am sure that you will be back to your more normal self soon. Being aware is half the battle. As to why? I wish I could tell you. Hugs.

  14. You are right, it is so scary. And it’s so important for women to realize this. We are, sadly, at an entirely different level of vulnerability than men.

  15. After KJ’s car got broken into a couple of weeks ago an we realized it could have happened between the time I left the house in the morning and the time she got out of the shower, I got majorly scared. I will never own a gun, but we both thought real hard about getting a dog.

  16. I try not to watch the news for just those reasons. It sounds silly I know, but there are things I think I’m better off not knowing. We had a rash of assaults where a man was breaking into the apartments of single women at night and attacking them going on… it definitely freaked me out. I mean… you can follow all the safety advice there is, but eventually you have to sleep.

  17. I agree we shouldn’t but sad to say we do

    I get freaked out when I watch the news- but I also like to be informed

    I love your blog, the template the whole thing, I’ll have to catch up

  18. Trying hard to be safe and cautious is not always enough and that’s scary, sad and overwhelming at times to think about.

  19. It IS scary. And what I find scares me the most is that I forget that it can happen to anyone- the idea of being hurt or attacked by a stranger always seems like it’s something that would happen to someone else, never me- which make me careless in car lots or about locking doors. I need to smarten up. As sobering as this post was- it was a good reminder that even if I don’t want to think these things can happen to me (or those I know and love), they CAN. So I should be prepared- or at least be aware.

  20. It is scary, but it’s like Long Story Longer said, our safety is really an illusion. ‘Cause any ole crazy can bust it up just because they’re crazy.

    That’s the scary part.

  21. I had a stalker in college. He never spoke but would sit outside my job at the mall and then follow me afterwards. I moved every 3-4 months for years until I learned he’d moved to another state. I still can’t say I ever really feel safe.

    What’s not fair is that no one would question a man’s judgement for taking a hike, just he and his dog.

  22. Having a healthy fear is a reminder to keep ourselves safe … not such a bad thing.

    Unless it is really scaring you into obsessive worry!

    Tell the fella he will get an extra smoochy if he walks you to the door!

  23. We live in a very scary world. I can sometimes write off a lot the bad things that happen by convincing myself they don’t happen in my neighborhood or to people I know. But then they do happen in a neighborhood I used to live in and even worse, to someone I know. Now how am I supposed to feel?

    My in-laws were close friends with Shannon so this has hit particularly close to home. There aren’t words to describe how saddened I am by both these stories.

  24. It is very sad when people feel unsafe walking around outside. I try not to watch local news that much because they tend to focus on stories like these, and after awhile you become paranoid. Remain safe and aware, but don’t feel that you can’t walk outside. If you do, then it’s time to move. I feel especially bad for elderly people who are the most vulnerable to attack, because they are the weakest.

  25. I thought about you when I first heard about this story. It’s so damn hard to make sense of these deaths. It pains me to rationalize how something so senseless could happen.

    I honestly don’t know if there’s much you can do, safety wise. If I think about it too much, it gets under my skin. I had no idea it was the same market you visited. This time of year in Seattle is very dark.

  26. It is really scary — and it’s really hard to walk the line between being safety-conscious and paranoid. I’ve definitely walked alone when I shouldn’t have, and I’ve definitely been spooked when I shouldn’t have…I just hate that it’s a consideration at all.

  27. At least you’re aware of it.. I sometimes forget to be scared, and that’s when I do dumb things like leaving the house without a phone… Or deciding to walk home at night alone.

  28. …and my daughter laughs because I want “proof of life” daily…

    Maybe I’m over-protective, but I’m also realistic. It can happen here. It can happen anywhere. Unfortunately.

    Take care, my friend. You accept the ride – and make him wait until you are safely inside before he drives away. We love you and don’t want anything to happen to you.

  29. Those stories make me sick and angry.

    If I’m dropping someone off, I’ll either see them in, or wait around until they get inside.

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