A dangerous place, this old world

Meredith Emerson, missing 24-year-old hiker, has been found dead in Vogel State Park, north of Atlanta.  A local man is being held and charged with her death, as he was the last one seen with her.

I looked at the website set up by her family.  Her picture, her smiling face and eyes, and I thought about my children.  I thought about her father.  I thought about all the lives full of hope that are stamped out by evil men and women.  I could weep, just thinking of her father whose pleas for help were posted on the web.

What do we do to keep our children safe?  We can certainly jail killers; of course that’s ex post facto.  They go to jail after someone dies and others mourn.  How do we teach them?

I know that I teach my children, from a very early age, to be suspicious of strangers.  Not unkind, but not instantly trusting.  Elysa, age six, has said to me of people at gas stations, ‘Papa, he looked at me like he wanted to take me away.’  I encourage that sort of healthy fear.  I saw the man; I think she was right.

I also teach them, from very early on, a few things to do to protect themselves.  We add a few techniques every year.  In the old world, in the days of knights, or in the days of the Samurai, young people learned combat from a very early age.  Not because they were being taught cruelty and anger (though some probably were).  But because they were raised in a deadly, dangerous world.  The daughters of Samurai learned the Naginata, a long halberd type weapon that they wielded with deadly skill to protect themselves and their families while their men were away.

I teach my children those things I know for the same reasons.  It’s a scary world. I’ll also, as time and maturity permit, teach them not to go into the wilderness unarmed.  A stick, a knife, or if legal, a firearm should accompany everyone into an isolated wilderness area.  A dog is a great help too, though not a guarantee of safety.  Meredith’s dog was with her, and was found alive much later.
Meredith had a blue belt in Karate.  Unfortunately, my years of martial arts experience have taught me that a blue belt, or even a black belt, doesn’t guarantee combat success or skill.  It’s just an introduction.  It’s really a way of saying, ‘good, now it’s time to train.’

Moreover, I’ve also learned something else.  Few martial artists know how to fight to save their lives.  Spinning wheel kicks are beautiful, but only useful to a very few individuals.  Most fights end up close, and then finish on the ground.  Any ER doc like myself will tell you that people get pushed down and then beaten.  Many martial arts, now made into sports to be more palatable to children and women, don’t teach the harsh realism that street self-defense requires.

But worst of all, we don’t teach adequate fear.  A young woman, of slight frame, should fear being alone in the forest.  I’m sorry.  It may sound sexist, but the news will bear me out.  Young, healthy men are seldom the victims of random attacks.  Young women are victims because they post little threat of dangerous retaliation.

We mustn’t be paralyzed by fear, but must use it.  We must realize that sociopaths and murderers, rapists and serial killers stalk this world like the nightmare monsters our ancestors believed lay beyond the safety of the walls, the warmth of the fire.

We have to learn that calling 911 on a cell phone is not going to save us in the few seconds it takes to die.  And we have to accept that sometimes, staying alive means distrust and violent response.  And if we have qualms about the second, let’s remember that if we, if our loved ones, stop a killer then perhaps another life has been saved that would have been taken later.

Finally, I’ll say this.  I pray for my kids every day.  I pray for their friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, future spouses, future employers, future employees, teachers, commanders, subordinates, pastors, and sometimes I even pray for their enemies.

I don’t know if God will shield them.  I don’t know his mind or will.  All I can do is ask.  And ask that if anyone wants to hurt them, he’ll be blind to them, afraid of them, twist his ankle trying to hurt them, fall in a hole, or at the worst, be stopped dead by them.

It’s a dangerous world.  We can’t forget that.  Ever.


PS  If you pray, please pray for Meredith Emerson’s family, and for justice to be done.

9 thoughts on “A dangerous place, this old world

  1. Pingback: GruntDoc » Blog Archive » A dangerous place, this old world at edwinleap.com

  2. Allow me, sir, to disagree. We should teach the Meredith Emersons of this world self-defence, how to apply for and obtain a concealed carry licence, and maintaining situational awareness.

    Yours faithfully,
    Felix Kasza.

  3. To Felix Kasza – I knew Meredith. She WAS trained to defend herself. She was an accomplished martial artist in top condition and she was accompanied by a fairly large dog. Clearly that wasn’t enough and you know nothing about her story.

    I agree with Mr. Leap that it is important to learn a certain amount of appropriate cauion and even fear to highten personal awareness and I hope that her story makes a lot of people think about that. A person should be able to hike in the middle of the day with their dog and feel safe, but sadly that is not the world we live in.

  4. To mkc,

    I’m so sorry about your friend, and continue to pray for her family. It’s an incomprehensible tragedy. And a tragedy, also, that the world is this way. I know that as a child I roamed for hours on end in uninhabited wilderness, with nothing but a dog and a little pocket-knife. I never felt afraid.

    If any good can come of this, I hope (as you suggested) other men and women think more about the potential dangers lying in wait for them.

    I have a little girl, and my heart breaks for Meredith.


  5. To Felix Kasza,

    I understand your point. I think concealed carry is an excellent option for many people in areas where it is available. Sadly, criminals engage in concealed carry all the time, but don’t have to worry about permits or legality.

    Some people, however, aren’t comfortable with firearms. And sometimes, the laws make concealed carry quite difficult. I had a permit that I let lapse, because it was illegal for the weapon to be in my vehicle on school grounds when I dropped my kids off, illegal to carry it into many public places, etc. Legislation sometimes makes it hardly worth having.

    That said, I wish the permits were 1)national and 2)more sweeping in what was allowable. Actually, they should be like the law in Vermont, which I understand (unless it has changed) allows anyone to carry without a permit if they have no criminal record. That’s fair and reasonable.

    The truth is that it’s much easier to learn to defend oneself with a firearm than with a martial art. Which is part of the reason that modern armies switched from edged weapons to firearms long ago. Training a warrior in the sword or bow takes years. Training a soldier to make lines, load, aim and fire is considerably easier. However, like martial arts, firearms themselves don’t teach us to be aware or cautious.

    We can make lots of assessments through the ‘retrospectoscope.’ The tragedy, cruelty, injustice and evil of this young woman’s death remain.

    Obviously, her assailant obviously didn’t consider the consequences of being caught. Southerners and Southern courts of law take a dim view of predators who murder young women. I suspect that it won’t go well for him.


  6. Thank you, Edwin. If any young woman would have been safe on a trail alone it was Meredith, but we unfortunately live in a world where that is not really safe. I assure you that she wasn’t a careless person and she wasn’t weak. She may just have been too hesitant to avoid a stranger, probably not wanting to be impolite or feeling that daylight was enough protection.

    I also think we can learn a lesson to keep an eye out for our fellow man. I do not blame any witnesses in any way, but if one of the people who saw them talking and felt that he was odd had stopped to talk to them – perhaps she would be alive today. Awareness of a witness can be a powerful thing. So I think we have to teach our children to have a healthy level of distrust – and to pay attention to what is happening to other people. We can improve our world not only by being more careful but by being mindful of each other.

  7. One of the things that I taught my children when they were very young was that if they felt uncomfortable around any adult, whether they could say a reason or not, they should tell me. I would make sure they had no further contact with that adult, or at least none outside my presence. My purpose was to teach them to trust their instincts. Of course they might have felt uncomfortable around someone who absolutely meant them no harm, but that’s a price worth paying. It was easy for me to provide my children the protection and support without any announcement to the rest of the world. My children did not grow up paranoid and quick to accuse, but they learned early to trust themselves, not to wait for someone else to tell them it was okay to be suspicious or afraid, confident in their right to be safe always.

    Thinking about Meredith (and praying for her family and friends) I think again that ‘discretion’ is a great concept to learn. Yes, good manners should be taught to children early, but not indiscriminately. I can easily see how Meredith (or me, or any woman) may have hesitated in the encounter (just as passersby hesitated to get involved), out of politeness. Our training is to be kind and polite — especially in situations or with people who don’t elicit those feelings automatically. Do it even when you don’t feel like it. Don’t judge (lest you be judged). Choose to be helpful. etc. etc.

    For too many people, choosing not to be polite because one senses a not-okay-ness, choosing to make a judgement, is harsh, unladylike, snooty, unkind (and worse names). That makes women hesitate. It makes children hesitate.

  8. The world is indeed a dangerous place – and not only for young women, but more so for them. My 6′ tall 20-something son was assaulted by 2 men his size in a public place in broad daylight. Because they did not have a gun, he was able to leave them lying on the ground writhing in pain. Had he been smaller or less well trained (14 years of a decidedly lethal style of karate) he could easily have been a statistic.

    I don’t teach my children fear. Too much fear can paralyze, but I do teach them caution – and that their safety takes priority over manners if they feel threatened in the slightest.

    I don’t know anything about Meredith’s assailant, but I understand that many predators appear quite normal and often very non-threatening. Ted Bundy comes to mind. I hope that they’ve caught the right person in this case. I expect the courts won’t go easy one him and not likely his fellow inmates will either.

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