I was 21 years old and working alone. It was not too long before my shift would end at 1:00AM at the Becker's Milk convenience store at the corner of Wyandotte St. and Lauzon Rd. in Windsor, Ontario. I was standing behind the counter, opening up various
cartons of cigarettes and filling up the columned cigarette dispensers, with whatever brands were getting low, ready for the next day.
I heard the familiar bell sound as a customer entered the door and I glanced toward him.
He was wearing dark pants, a dark long-sleeved jacket done up to his neck, a hat, and dark sunglasses. The sunglasses were a bit unusual, but the "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night" song by Corey Hart was pretty popular at the time, so I figured
he was just trying to be cool. I kinda laughed inside my head. We would get every kind of crazy in this store, so this was just the next bit of unique humanity for my amusement.
He came directly to the counter, stood facing me and said,
"Give me all the money in the cash register".
I grew up in a home where there was usually more teasing than talking, and I was accustomed to looking for the joke in everything before any other intention was considered, so I thought he
I laughed out loud, and said, "Yah, that's funny! What can I get you?".
He repeated his statement. I just laughed again, "Yah you're too funny! What do you really want?"
He then reached
into his sleeve, pulled out a 10-inch knife and said, "I want all the money in the cash register, and I want you to give me all the money you keep underneath the counter as well."
No thoughts of fear went through my mind. I sort of just
thought, "Oh, he wants the money", and then began doing what occurred to me, which was complying.
A couple of scenarios and escape options flashed through my mind.
The counter was quite high, so if he tried to jump
over it toward me, it would be awkward for him to do, and so I knew it would give me enough time to run to the other end of the counter and out the back door. And if I saw him heading toward the opening at the other end of the counter, I knew I could easily
jump over the counter at my end, and then run out the front door toward the Lion's Head Tavern across the street.
I pulled all of the bills out of the register, and grabbed the bundle of bills under the counter that had not yet been locked
into the safe, and handed them over to him.
I was conscious of paying attention to the details of his appearance while I did this. For a moment I looked toward his eyes behind his glasses, and it suddenly felt personal. I got the sense
that he didn't appreciate that. He paused for a second or two, staring back at me, and said, "I want you to go into the back room".
I already had my escape plans in mind, and this was not one of them. I didn't really have time to think
what he would do if I went back there with him, but I knew it wasn't a good idea to go there. I simply said "No".
He paused for a moment, then started walking toward the open end of the counter. I got ready to jump over my end of the counter
and make a run for it. Thankfully, he never stepped up onto the raised deck behind the counter. He simply reached toward the phone on the wall and cut the cord. I remember thinking that that was clever.
He then turned back around and ran
out the front door. I watched him as he left, and noted his height against the height markers on the door, put there for this specific purpose. He was about 5' 10". I felt pleased for remembering to make note of that.
A moment later, with
no ability to call the police, I grabbed the keys, went out the front door, locked it behind me, then ran across the street. I didn't go into the bar because I knew it would be dark and noisy and busy, so I went to the pizza parlour next door, told them what
happened, and asked to use their phone to call the police.
During the whole event, and in the police investigation right after, and on my eventual drive home, I never felt fear, other than for a slight hit of discomfort when he told me
to go into the back room. After it was all over, I never had any problems sleeping, and I never got scared to go back to work or to do the late shift... although at least for a while after that, I think the manager decided to have two people covering the late
shift. I never had any lasting fear or trauma from the event. It just became an interesting story to talk about.
About 25 years later I was sleeping in my home in Winnipeg when at about 1:00AM in the morning, there was a bunch of loud
noise at the door. Someone was trying to break in.
Upon that realization, I went into a chaotic and frenzied response. I had enough mental cognition to get to the phone and dial 911 but I was barely able to answer the operator's questions.
I was stuttering and couldn't get any of my words out in clear sentences.
Thoughts raced through my mind about the possibility of how I could respond if he got into the house, but every option seemed inadequate and hopeless. I had no plan
that felt in any way safe or obvious. I kept imagining the worst.
Fortunately the police were able to get there in a couple of minutes. It ended up being a really drunk guy who had the wrong house and was angrily and aggressively trying
to get in.
I've had other fearful events happen in my life. Sometimes I've been in a state of complete calm and clarity... I was even in a car crash once where time slowed down, and where I somehow dropped into a surreal state "beyond
calm" where I knew exactly what to do, like I was directing a stop-motion ballet. At other urgent events, I've been overwhelmed and much less than clear.
Since those events and some insights into the nature of thought and life, I've gained
a much clearer understanding of fear...
Fear is not at all necessary to create action, and in fact, when it's held onto, it just gets in the way of clarity.
It isn't up to me personally as to how I end up feeling in
an urgent situation. Sometimes fear appears and sometimes it doesn't.
Even those who are highly trained for urgent and dangerous situations, can still lose their calm, fall into an experience of fearful thought and feeling, and then freeze
up or overreact.
I can't fear any person, event, or thing... I can only ever fear the made up stories that somehow appear in my mind.
Fear doesn't happen because of a person, event, or thing... fear happens because
of the thinking that somehow appears in my mind that, in that moment, I take seriously, and give meaning and significance.
Fear is not to be feared. It's simply a temporary moment of busy insecure thought and feeling, focused on the past
or the future instead of the present.
Fear never tells any truth about the current event nor does it accurately predict what will happen or not happen.
The presence (or non-presence) of fear only gives some sense of
how unclear (or clear) my thinking is in the moment.
I can still function when fear appears... it's just not as pretty or effective, and it offers a lot less options.
The human default state is calm, clear, and present...
fear is just moments of a temporary add-on of creative thought and feeling.
Even with a clear understanding of what fear is, it still arises within me (and falls away again) in all its various forms... whether for the urgent or the non-urgent.
I'm now just a lot less likely to be interested in it, to believe in it, to pay attention to it, or to give it significance, whenever it happens to arise.
Fear happens, but it's nice to know that it's not at all necessary.