Last Monday after an incident with a homeless man on the Sunday, I stepped out my door on rainy cool fall day. As I walked down the street with the yellow and orange standing starkly against the grey of the sky, I found twinges of fear come over me as a guy was walking towards me at some distance and put up his hoodie against the rain. People I would have passed with little thought were now a threat that my mind focused on and watched, just in case. This pattern worsened as I walked toward the "L" stop. By the time I got on the train I found my self resisting all my attention being put on select individuals who were black or Hispanic and looked for whatever reasons slightly threatening. I though was only vaguely aware of this narrowing of my attention and vision. I was on my way to the art store that I could get to be either staying on the Red Line or switching to the Brown Line. When I arrived at the last place to Transfer I had not decided whether to stay on the read and walk a little further or stay on the brown and take slightly longer to get there but not have to walk. As we got to the stop I noticed a guy who looked reminded me of Bill ever so slightly and before I knew as the doors of the car opened I was on the platform to avoid being in the same car as the man. I was shocked at my own actions and looked at the guy as he settled into a seat in the car and listed all the ways he looked very different from Bill, except being about the same height and black. Upon doing that I became fully aware how fear was threatening to take over and was narrowing my experience and how I had become aware of very little but what my paranoid instincts were focusing on out of a desire to seek out possible threats. I had never felt this way not since I was 12 in the first months of moving to inner city LA (Carson to be exact) and facing the violent environment of a large LA City Junior High School.
Monday after joining the ranks of those who call police and having to physically back up my non-violent beliefs to counter violence of word and action, I was feeling fear. I have traveled neighborhoods considered far more dangerous than where I live now traveled the CTA in the middle of the night and never felt the fear and anxiety I felt on Monday. So, I understand a little better some peoples anxiety for Kate and I that we would travel so freely and without fear in Chicago and lived for a time in Humboldt Park on a gang line. Thankfully as I came back from the store and in the rest of the week as I traveled on the CTA and walked through my neighborhood and the fear and anxiety have steadily abated. I have found just how this fear narrows ones attention upon the perceived potential threat, and this narrowing of attention is frightening in and of itself as ones attention is almost wholly on the source of the perceived threat and on nothing else in the surroundings. So at least as I experienced this fear and anxiety it is a sort of cascading of fear and anxiety that if one does not arrest it simply builds and builds. This is the opposite of how I generally engage my surroundings and live out my life. I am always aware of my entire environment, As I walk through my neighborhood I am aware of people that may be behind me or in front of me, but also notice the squirrels, plants, cats and the conditions of the sky. I do generally notice people who might be suspicious or groups gathered in a way that could be threatening, or at night people seemingly lurking in shadows, etc. Yet those things have never elicited fear and anxiety before. What I felt on Monday and diminishing all of last week (once inside a busy hardware store of all places!) I had never experienced or felt before. I was shocked how the fear caused me to cower and narrowed my attention so that in that fear and anxiety I became unaware of my surroundings. Thankfully I am now more or less back to my way of being in the world.