I still flinch when I see him walking behind me.

punchThis happened about a month and a half ago. I decided to write about it, then not. But it still has some control on me, obviously, so I figure writing about it will release the hold it has. Well, that’s the theory.

It’s a Thursday evening, choir night in the choir loft, and we were about over with the rehearsal section, and were about to start with the prayer concerns. Someone in the tenor section made a comment about how the music repeats, and looked to him to note that we have to remember to modulate, i.e., go to a different key.

Then someone from behind me punched me. Hard, with a downward motion, to my left shoulder blade. It was one of the basses, about twenty years older than I was. Distinguished man who had served not only this church, but the Albany Presbytery and the national church. I stood up, turned around, and said, “You hit me!” He said, “You didn’t shut up.”

I am now livid, as much by his “justification” as by his blow. I think I wanted to hit him. But the truth of the matter is that I’ve seldom punched anyone. If I were to have struck him, it would been purely reflex. Once I stood up, this wasn’t going to happen.

Besides, the narrative was all wrong: “60-year-old man beats up 80-year-old man, in church.”

Still, I was not in the attitude of prayer. I got up, leaving my music where it was, muttered, “I’m done here,” walked to the back of the church, got my bicycle and backpack, and peddled home. I was really angry that evening.

Friday, I was REALLY sad. Music is a refuge, church, and especially choir, is a refuge, and it was violated. And my arm still hurt, to boot.

I thought my abrupt departure might have engendered a call or an e-mail or some Facebook comment from a choir member, but no. (Arthur, n.b., this was the source of the reference to Split Enz’s Nobody Takes Me Seriously. A more appropriate tune might have been Mr. Cellophane from the musical Chicago.)

One of my sisters, who read my cryptic FB message, wondered if the man who hit me was suffering from some sort of dementia.

That Sunday, talked to the choir director, who hadn’t see what had happened. Nobody did, not even the guy sitting next to him; only the guy I was talking with did; his wife was very angry on my behalf. During the week, I also spoke with one of the pastors.

Long story short: he hasn’t hit me again. We haven’t spoken, except when I passed him a pen, through a third party. I still flinch when I see him walking behind me – getting Communion, e.g. – because I still don’t know the real cause of his action. I was glad the one Sunday he was absent. Now that the choir season is over, I won’t have to deal with this directly, until the fall.

The one thing that helped more than a little was this post by Lisa, called U is for Unforgiveness, which came out after he hit me, but before I saw him again. “If we’re waiting until we get an apology, or see some sign of change or simply waiting until we’re good and ready, it will never happen.”

If I had gone out to breakfast with him, and 14 other guys, the following Thursday morning, expecting an apology from him, and didn’t get it, I might well have been furious. Having read that, I was merely resigned to that outcome.

That seems to be my general state regarding this issue: disappointment, loss of respect for him, and more than a little melancholy, because my “safe place” feels like it’s gone. Someone in the congregation, who knew of this situation, said to me after church about a month ago that I looked sad. I said, “The mad goes away quickly; the sad tends to take a bit longer.”

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

10 thoughts on “Unexpected”

  1. That’s…awful. I’m not sure what the worst thing here is, actually — but I’m pretty sure it’s not even that the guy hit you, but that everyone else has basically clammed up about it. That’s what gets me the most about situations like that, when there’s almost an unspoken code or agreement not to bring it up. No messages or calls of support, no nothing? And NOBODY saw this at all? Everybody just plays dumb or “stays out of it”.

    I actually have not attended my own church — and neither has any of my family, really — for quite a few months now, largely because the place started feeling less and less welcoming. Our story is a lot less extreme than yours, obviously, and I’m aghast that there could be zero reaction to something like that happening in a church, of all places. But when a perceived sanctuary stops being that, it’s a hard thing.

    I’m glad you didn’t hit the guy back. I’m not at all sure I wouldn’t have snapped at that point.

  2. You might want to send him a hard copy of this column so he will at least have to note his transgression…

  3. Ugh! I hate when stuff like that happens. And at church, it seems so much worse to me. Church is my “safe place” – the ONE place I always felt accepted and okay and like people could forgive stuff.

    About a month ago I found myself in a pastor-parish relations committee meeting (I’m head elder, so I HAVE to be on the committee) where two individuals had a strong disagreement over something and wound up yelling at each other (they were sitting on either side of me, which made it worse). I wound up in tears but didn’t feel like I could get up and walk out (it would have made more of a scene).

    I will say both parties called me individually to apologize to me. I don’t know if they apologized to EACH OTHER (I was only an unlucky bystander) but that kind of thing just makes me sad and reminds me of how hard human nature is.

  4. I wonder if this is because we’ve become so anaesthetised to bad behaviour that many of us just don’t “see” it. I don’t mean literally—like it’s hard to believe that NO one saw that guy hit you—but that we convince ourselves we don’t see what we really do. The fact that no one, really, said anything to you is a bit of a concern and, it seems to me, that would be part of what makes your “safe place” seem so much less so. Do you think you’d still be feeling the sadness if others had spoken up or, at least, to you?

  5. I’m very happy my post was of some help to you in this situation. Guess there really aren’t any coincidences in life, is there? We often forget that a “church” is made up of sinners; that it’s not necessarily protected from bad actions/people/behaviors. What is more concerning to me is that this person hasn’t acknowledged or apologized for his action. That reveals a deeper problem with his walk in my opinion. And while we are instructed to forgive…..it doesn’t say we need to forget.

  6. I’m so sorry this happened, and I’m holding back tears. One of the worst things that can ever happen is to feel like you aren’t safe in a place that once felt like a sanctuary. It’s strange how we just don’t speak up when we see something wrong; I have to agree with Arthur in that it’s hard to believe no one else saw it happen. And now you’re left with this unresolved feeling. My therapist would say that you built up emotional energy but had no way to utilize it, which can leave us feeling anxious and confused.

    You’re a better man than I am; with my combination of anxiety, panic, depression, and anger, I would’ve seriously hurt someone who did that to me. In fact, losing control that way is one of my worst fears.

    I hope things smooth out for you, or at least get less bumpy. You don’t deserve this.

  7. Would it help if you could sit somewhere further away from him or where he isn’t behind you. It’s possible that part of what is disturbing you is that the violation of your safe place continues whenever you know he is behind you. Maybe that part could be changed so that the violation isn’t quite so ongoing.

    It wouldn’t help with the rest of it although it’s possible that it might serve as a signal to others who did see something and just haven’t admitted it that what happened was a serious episode and not to be treated lightly.

    I had someone slap me on the back of my head because she didn’t like what I said during a choir rehearsal and I ended up talking with her privately and letting her know that she made me feel unsafe and if it continued I would have to make an issue of it because I wouldn’t be able to have her sitting behind me. It took a while but it did get better.

  8. Ultimately, I think I’ve decided on a mediator, because the idea of having to initiate talking with him irrationally ties my stomach in knots.

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