“She has never met a stranger, Doc! Trying to teach her to be safe around people she doesn’t know is really hard.”
I laughed as I checked out his daughter’s right ear and then her left with my otoscope then placed the instrument back on the wall rack.
“Yeah, my kids like to wave at scary people at stop lights, and I mean really scary people…,” I caught myself awkwardly after the emphasis.
I glanced over at him quickly to gauge how he took that last statement.
He was a big, burly man with a full beard and multiple nose and lip piercings. He had large black spacers in his ear lobes and tribal tattoos over his arms. He worked as a motorcycle mechanic and his hands were always dirty. Did he wonder if he was someone I would have thought was scary at a stoplight? I am certain he had been treated as if he were by others over the years, probably many times.
What makes someone scary?
To be honest, he would be downright terrifying to me twenty years ago if I met him on the street. At this point in my life I like to think I know better. Then, I make a stupid comment about waving at scary people at stop lights.
Is it just the unknown? Or is it the simple fact that someone does not look like us?
When I was a little kid I used to sit on the bed in the back of my grandpa’s RV waving at all of the truck drivers that pulled up behind us on road trips. When my parents realized what was happening, I got in trouble. Big trouble. They wanted to make sure I understood that sort of behavior would probably get me killed or raped by some strange man.
Truck drivers are dangerous.
One day in med school I was chatting with a very friendly woman on the psych ward. She was articulate. Bubbly. Kind with the other patients, sort of a mother hen. She was a joy be around. My attending called me over after a few minutes and told me she had gouged out the eyes of her four kids because they had glowed red in a photograph and must have been possessed by Satan. She managed to kill three of them. The fourth child survived. Blind. It shook my confidence. That was not at all what I had expected.
Shouldn’t you be able to see the bad in people?
A few years later I handed some medication samples to a man at the clinic. He pointed at my son’s picture on the wall and commented on what a handsome boy he was. I had treated that man for years and thought I knew him pretty darn well. I liked him. It was maybe two weeks later that he was arrested for molesting his two grandchildren and a disabled stepson.
The realization that someone’s appearance cannot tell you who they are throws the whole world off balance. The most dangerous people are the ones with evil you cannot see.
Should I let my kids smile and wave at strangers at a stop light? Hell, I don’t know. I just wish fear did not have to rule so much of our lives.