The older gentleman standing before me in line at the supermarket fumed. Livid about the price of strawberries and an apparent discrepancy in what the store advertised and what he was charged, he spewed venom on the girl who checked him out. Then he grabbed her and made her walk with him to the strawberry section to show her how wrong she was. Oddly, she willingly followed. While I waited.
The man returned with the shame-faced girl, waving the sign at her and hollering. I felt terrible for the girl, but I was also a little annoyed that all my groceries were on the conveyor belt and this conflict didn’t seem to want to end.
Finally, as a manager came near, I firmly told the man, “Sir, I’m sorry you’re having a conflict, but can you please take this to the manager here and have her settle it? There are people waiting in line.”
He scowled. Later, my daughter Julia said she thought he would punch me. “Mom, if he punched you, I’d punch him back for you.” But then she admitted, “That man scared me.”
Back to the story. I looked at the checker in that moment and our eyes locked. “Thank you,” she said. “That man scared me. I can’t thank you enough for rescuing me from him.”
Her eyes, her fear, her sadness plunged me back to another memory back in France when I was in the middle of a heated exchange where one woman berated and ridiculed a friend of ours. Something rose up within me in that moment. Firmly, but clearly I said, “You are not allowed to treat him that way.”
Someone pulled me aside after that exchange and confronted me. “Mary,” the man said, “you are reactionary. You need to control yourself.”
At first I apologized. But after thinking about it and praying, I realized I had nothing to apologize for. Someone had to intervene when a bully abused. If I hadn’t who would? And who would stand up for the victim? If Jesus were there, wouldn’t He help the victimized?
I hope I did the right thing, both for the checker and for my friend. Sometimes it’s hard to know. Because we’re conditioned to think love is ooey gooey, and touchy feely. Always kind and gentle and sweet. I would argue that sometimes love looks pretty darn tough and even borders on mean, in the case of protecting the innocent. Sometimes love looks an awful lot like a firm voice and drawing a line in the sand and saying, “Sorry, but you’re not allowed to talk that way to that person.” It’s the right thing to do.
When was the last time you intervened when a bully tried to hurt or yell at someone? What happened? How did you feel afterward?