I have always had this “thing” in my life. I didn't really know where it came from, but it has always been there--beneath the surface or flashing brightly in the sun. Until now, I didn't understand why. I originally thought that it was simply a human trait. That everyone had a similar feeling, but experience screams otherwise. The "thing" to which I refer is a sense of being a human shield to those who can't defend themselves. I have always, always defended underdogs. I think that's where my soft spot for animals of all kinds arises. I think it's why I always defended kids in school who were picked on by bullies. I think it is why I still defend adults even who are bullied. I never viewed it as anything as grandiose as a hero complex. It was just a sense of needing to stand up for those could not or would not stand up for themselves. Only when I'm the one needing an advocate to stand up for me, I haven't always been there for myself.
I have come up with various analogies to try to explain this feeling of needing to be a human shield to others to myself. I have used metaphors like being a mama bear protecting her cubs, only I'm protective of anyone I perceive as an underdog. An example of this is when I was on a public bus near Seattle, and I encountered a group of teens who were picking on this grown man with a bag of groceries. The man was probably in his twenties. Apparently he was giving off a scared rabbit vibe because these teens rather blatantly swiped a bottle of wine out of his grocery bag and refused to put it back. The guy was clearly outnumbered by the teens and overwhelmed by their bully energy. I suspect he had been bullied as a child and a familiar scenario was taking over his will to stand up for himself when he was outnumbered. Had someone not stepped in to help him, I suspect he would have gone home one bottle of wine short.
That someone who stepped in was me, a thirty-something dyke, who looked more like a mom than law enforcement. Still this mom-like dyke spoke up after about a minute of their bullying behavior. I had been watching them, hoping that their better selves would override their bully selves and do the right thing by returning the bottle to its rightful owner. When that was clearly not going to happen, and no one else seemed inclined to step in, I told them to cut the crap and return the bottle they had stolen. They, in the form of a snarky teenage girl, denied that they had stolen anything. Being quite used to confronting snarky teenage girls from my years in social service, I said something like, "Come on. I saw you do it. Just give it back and leave the guy alone." Never doubting for an instant that she would comply, I kept my eye on her until she gave it back. Then she and her friends moved away from the guy and me. I guess all those years of working at an emergency shelter for teenage girls paid off. That authoritarian tone had not left me and the battle ended peacefully. The guy thanked me and that was the end of it.
It wasn't until later that it dawned on me that in this day and age, the punks could very well have had a gun or a knife and things could have ended differently, but they didn't. My angels were no doubt keeping them in line. They were just punk bullies, and someone older, with authority in her voice, and a strong mama bear energy in her aura stood up to them. It wasn't my fight, but neither was it right to sit idly by and let the bullying continue.
Related to this sense of being a human shield is the concept of being a Rescuer. To use archetypal terms, it's like being a knight in shining armor, or is my case, a knightess in shining armor, coming to the aid of damsels in distress. I'd say that at least half of my romantic relationships started out as rescues. That's not a good way begin a relationship unless you're talking about rescuing kittens. I think it was the Buddha who said that a relationship based on need will always be a needy relationship. My need to rescue and another's need to be rescued adds up to a needy relationship every time. Even when I've tried diligently to stop myself from acting out the Rescuer archetype, I seem only to postpone this scenario for a time. A few years at best.
It has only been my shift into a role of being the one in need of rescuing that this theme of rescuing has abated somewhat. It's really hard to be both the rescued and the rescuer simultaneously, and yet I continue to try. Like the time a hawk zoomed down and snatched a squirrel from the magnolia tree in my front yard. Somehow the two of them ended up by the hedge in front of the house. Had I not been in a wheelchair, that squirrel would have lived to see another day. I would have run the hawk off and saved the squirrel. Instead, I had to sit in my wheelchair on the sidewalk and try to figure out a way to get the hawk to leave its perspective dinner alone long enough for it to escape.
I played great horned owl sounds on my phone in hopes of scaring it away by making it think that one of its few predators was nearby. Unfortunately, the sound quality was poor and it sounded too far away to be a threat. I prayed and grappled with this moral dilemma for a while, trying to scare it away by tossing an empty water bottle at it. Physics worked against me and the light as a feather empty bottle landed uselessly several feet away from the hawk. That effort yielded not even a blink of the hawk's eyes. Sadly after a half hour of being able to figure out nothing, I had to roll away and allow nature to take its course. That felt awful to me, particularly since a van full of ambulatory people sat in my driveway watching me, offering no help whatsoever. If I had been in that van and abler to walk, I would have jumped out and chased the hawk away in seconds. It was a prime example of how few people there are who will protect the underdog, or in this case, the undersquirrel.
I had to go inside because I couldn't bear to watch as the hawk ate dinner, when dinner was a small creature, who had called the tree in my front yard home. I guess I've spent too many hours watching squirrels cavorting in the trees not to feel a kinship with them. I didn't know this particular squirrel, but neither did I know the man on the bus whose bottle of wine was stolen from him in the presence of a host of witnesses, who remained silent except for me.
There are other incidences when I stood up for kids in school, who were being bullied for one reason or another. I befriended them and sent would-be bullies on their way, mostly just with my presence. My presence at their side demonstrated that this victim was no longer alone. No longer prey to a bored bully with nothing better to do than pick on someone who was at a disadvantage because of a handicap, shyness, poverty, or some other trait that set them apart from others.
I've never understood bullying and my bully alarm goes off quite easily. Bullies make me angry. No matter what the circumstances, and I will stand up to them. The hawk was less of a bully and more just another one of God's creatures who just needed to eat to survive. No amount of discussion over the benefits of a plant-based diet was going to change that. So I yielded to the higher intelligence of nature. That wasn't easy to do, but I had no other choice that I could see. I certainly had no intention of harming the hawk. It was simply following its hawk nature. Still I haven't forgotten the squirrel or this difficult situation, as this blog attests.
This story brings home the point that sometimes I am the only one who stands between the victim and the victimizer. I don’t try to be a hero. I am sometimes just forced into it by circumstances. I don’t particularly like the feeling of standing out there alone, being a human shield to protect someone who cannot or will not stand up for themselves. So why do I do it when I have nothing personal to gain from it? I finally reached the conclusion that it might either be something in my DNA or very early life experience. It could be both, of course, but I'll skip the debate between nature versus nurture. It just is what it is. I feel compelled to stand up to bullies to protect the victims. I'm less compelled to stand up when I'm the one being bullied but I am getting to that point too.