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.

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