I will always remember November 30th, 2010.
I had just experienced one of the most beautiful moments in my life. The lighting of the 72 foot Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center for the first time. People from every corner of the world pressed in with a silence that could be heard for miles.
The count down to zero ended the silence.
Merry Christmas echoed as the tree became a fire of brilliant color. Every face continued to shine as they dispersed to their homes. The streets were lined with people and I loved every minute of it.
Hope and optimism were my best friends as I walked to catch my train home. This was the start of my new life as an actor in New York City.
A life that I carefully carved out for two years.
My walk to Port Authority Trans-Hudson or the Path train located at 33rd Street and Broadway took an extra hour because of the crowds. Traveling by foot was fun.
Commuting from Jersey City, New Jersey to the Big Apple was something I did everyday.
I didn’t own a car because I always took the subway or the train. My decision to leave my home town in Michigan was the best idea I ever had.
I was benefiting physically, emotionally and intellectually. I was working in television on the set of The Good Wife, and it was beginning to pay off. I played the role of a lawyer and the director was noticing me. After 15 years God was blessing the work of my hands.
I had rented a room in what seemed a very nice area in New Jersey. Located just across the Hudson River with a view a night that made your jaw drop. God gave me talent and I was determined to be a witness for him in the world of acting. I was taking what was mine.
My train came to a halt at 11:20 pm. I stepped out into the night away from the fluorescent lights.
As I walked to my apartment I thought about tomorrow.
Auditioning for the very popular UCB, the Upright Citizens Brigade, an excellent improvisational theatre excited me. This was where actors honed and shaped their craft.
My apartment wasn’t grand but it fit my pocket book. It was located in a very nice 3 story house was just 2.5 blocks away from the train. Grocery stores and other conveniences were adjacent to me which made daily living comfortable. My walk home was brisk. The neighborhood was new to me so being aware of my surroundings was priority one.
Approaching the second block, my peripheral vision caught two dark figures standing under a lamp post near a store that had closed its doors for the evening.
I walked quickly but a voice inside me whispered, pick up your pace. I could see my house in the distance.
Suddenly a voice behind me echoed in my left ear. Hey, turn around.
Have you ever heard a voice that was so menacing it made your heart leap?
Lengthening my stride I decided to run. As I was about to run, I heard those words a second time. Hey you! I said turn around.
I felt something hard hit the top of my head.
A violent vibration shot down my spine like a bolt of lightning. My knees buckled as I collapsed on the cold November sidewalk.
My head was pulsating with an indescribable pain and my vision was blurred.
Could this be a bad dream? Nightmares were not new to me. It must be a dream. Things like this only happen to other people, right? Soon I would wake, open my eyes and find myself safe in bed.
A knee impacted the center of my chest.
“Where’s your wallet punk?” Hatred echoed in the cold air as the mugger breathed those words in my face again. “I said, where’s your wallet!”
Hands covered in cold leather were padding body.
My wallet left my coat pocket. The man found my Mp3 and slammed it into my chest.
“Here, you can have this.” I opened my eyes.
This was no dream.
I was a victim of a crime. I tried to identify my assailant but his hooded jacket covered his face. Pounding my chest exited what was left of my breath. I turned my head. Across the street another dark figure watched this terrible scene. In the days that followed I would come to understand that muggers have accomplices or watch dogs just in case anything went wrong.
Have you ever been a victim of something? When you think of bullying or victimization, what words come to mind? Stealing? How about fear. Becoming a victim means that someone took your innocence by force replacing
it with fear. It is fear destroys your life, not the action attached to it.
40 YEARS EARLIER
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1
Allow me to take you back in time. I was 4 years old when I accepted Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.
I remember it like it was yesterday. My mother taught me that Jesus lived in my heart and soul. She said, anytime I needed him for any reason, he would be an ever present help in time of trouble. Now let’s go back to that fateful night.
I took a deep breath. The pain in my chest was unbearable. I screamed, Jesus help me! My voice reverberated in the cold night air. The young man who was attempting to take my life was mysteriously lifted off of me like a weak rag doll. My assailants ran off into the night. Mom was right, God was with me.
IT WAS MY CHOICE
The mugger had my wallet, but God had saved me. As I lay in my own pool of blood a light broke the darkness. A neighbor had heard my cry for help. Leaning out of the safety of his doorway he whispered, “Are you all right?”
I was grateful for the bravery of this man. He was to be the first of many good Samaritans that would cross my path in the next few weeks. But asking me if I was all right? Are you kidding?
Gathering what was left of my strength I said,
“I think so.”
A lady emerged from the same house. Kneeling down she gently lifted me, escorting me closer to her home. I felt my head rest on a pillar. She wiped my forehead with a white towel which quickly turned a dark crimson.
We called 911. What happened dear? I don’t remember her name but I do remember sharing with her about the Christmas tree, the people in the city that I loved so much and every good and beautiful thing I could think of.
The young lady was keeping from going into shock.
I heard the sirens. The EMT knelt by my side. Can you walk sir? I didn’t know if I could or not but I got up anyway. As they led me to the Ambulance I thanked the couple for coming to my rescue.
I sat in the Ambulance. Noticing blood dripping from my forehead as I held gauze to the wound, I began to reflect on my life.
For 2 years I prepared and planned my move to the Big Apple. I went to acting school, worked in theater, networked, read dozens of books on the business of acting. Different emotions began to flood my mind.
Its important to reflect on what is yours, especially if someone has just stolen something of value.
At that moment, I gave myself two choices. Every decision has two choices.
I decided not to allow this set back to destroy my dreams. I must wake up and take back what was mine. Fear and anger began waging a civil war inside me.
Giving into the emotion of fear would debilitate my acting career, my sense of adventure and my love of life. Anger is short lived but can give you the strength you need in times of crisis. I raised my head. The EMT was filling out the medical reports. I looked at him.
“Hey you know what?” Kindness and respect filled the man’s face. He spoke in a inquisitive tone. “What is that Mr. Thompson?”
I have a choice to make. I can be afraid for the rest of my life or I can be angry and learn from this experience. I choose anger. The response was a smile. Changing your mind set means declaring it verbally. Thinking without speaking doesn’t allow your nervous system to react. Taking what is yours requires it speaking aloud.
Going to the hospital that night was not on my schedule. The mugger took my plans, my dignity, my identification and my future. Those things didn’t belong to him, they were my gifts from God. Lying there in the emergency room I thought about my family in Michigan. Being lone in the big city with no one to comfort me was at this time, frightening.
I wondered how I was going to make it through this traumatic experience. I felt very alone and scared.
Sleep didn’t visit me that night. What rest I could have had was interrupted by two policemen. They were there to make a report of the incident.
Sharing my horrifying experience helped me. Their presence gave me the feeling protection and safety. After about an hour of debriefing they said goodbye. One of the policemen stopped. His words were both compassionate and disturbing.
“Mr. Thompson, you are a lucky man.”
Lucky? Didn’t you listen to a word I said copper? What’s wrong with you?
These words echoed in my head but didn’t reach my mouth. My mother taught me that God placed law enforcement on the Earth to protect and preserve.
But I still wanted justice. I felt it in every fiber in my being. They must have seen the contempt because their next words put my attitude in check.
“Sir, another man was attacked tonight about 3 blocks from you. They cracked his occipital lobe with the butt of a gun.”
The intense anger and un forgiveness suddenly receded.
The policeman was correct. I was a lucky man. God came to my rescue when I called his son’s name.
I thanked the officers as they left me with my thoughts. Lord, I am sorry for my attitude. I couldn’t help it. Peace flooded my mind. I fell into a deep sleep.
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2
It was about four o’clock in the morning. My sleep was disturbed by a hand enveloping mine. Opening my eyes I saw what appeared to be an angel standing by my bedside. Are you all right? I am here to help you. The nurse spoke softly.
Before I go any further, I must tell you that I was alert and wide awake. When I opened my eyes her countenance emanated a light that made her natural beauty shine like the morning sun. Her features reminded me of a middle eastern decent and her voice so gentle, I couldn’t help but shed a few tears.
From four o’clock to six o’clock, she fluffed my pillow, bringing me water and listened to anything I wanted to share. After 6 o’clock she departed.
It was 7 o’clock when a police officer arrived to take me home.
Before leaving I stopped by the front desk inquiring about the nurse who that took such good care of me. I wanted to shake her hand.
The head nurse answered my inquiry. I am sorry sir, we don’t have any one on staff by that name. Another tear fell from my face.
I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint. Jeremiah 31:25
I felt fear and a feeling of gratitude going back to my room.
As I entered the front door I noticed for the first time different activity in the neighborhood. Some people were walking the street hiding their face with hoods, while others nervously entered their cars as their schedules dictated. The words of the police officers suddenly came back to me. “Mr. Thompson, the neighborhood may look upscale, but don’t be fooled. Many good people want to move but can’t sell their homes because of the crime rate in that area.” I had made a wrong move. I made my way to the bathroom. As I gazed into the mirror a stranger was staring back at me.
A pool of tears welled up and fell down my scared face. Have you ever had someone steal your humanity? It’s taking what belongs to you. I am not speaking of what you own or even your life experiences. Humanity is kindness, innocence and compassion. It’s all the beliefs you hold dear.
Wounds covered my face. They were around the corners of my mouth, nose and cheeks. Stitches above my right eyebrow likened me to Boris Karloff in the 1931 version of Frankenstein. I looked hideous. My two front teeth were damaged from the impact of hitting the ground. I looked like the stereotypical Kentucky banjo player.
How could that angelic nurse look at my with such kindness? It was when I felt the stitches I realized God came to my aid. If the mugger would have come within one to two inches closer, my eye would have been plucked out. God saved me.
Tears fell like rain, stinging the open wounds around my mouth and nose.
Remembering the declaration I made to the EMT just a few hours ago, I was determined this experience was not going to ruin my life. I choose to be angry, not afraid.
It was time to wake up and take what was stolen from me. I needed a new cell phone, a new debit card and besides, I was ravenous.
I will tell you right now I called for cab that morning. My mind was in trauma and I knew it. Walking to the train was out of the question. I recognized that taking care of yourself should always be first when your taking back what is yours.
Walking through the town of Jersey City attracted gazers. Its what the South like to call rubber neckers.
My scarred face told the story. It was obvious I had been through something. After registering for a new debit card, I made my way to Subway. Ordering my usual was out of the question. I sat down with a flatbread breakfast sandwich.
The first tiny bite was like someone had smashed a fist in my face. Each bite increased this feeling.
The action of chewing was so agonizing I wanted to scream. My jaw was out of line. I mouthed the rest of the six inch sandwich like an old man who forgot who left his teeth home in a jar.
Shaking my head in sorrow, I thought about the night before. My wallet contained two twenties and a ten. All this pain for fifty bucks? My last stop before going home was the phone store. Bracing myself for yet more ghastly stares, I entered the building. Before I even walked to the counter, the young lady spoke. “My dear what happened to you?” Her non judgmental attitude restored some of my dignity.
Other customers entered but she kept her eyes and attention on me. I was not a Frankenstein’s monster after all just a human being who had gone through something horrible and lived to tell it. Leaving the store I noticed people staring. Their looks no longer penetrated my soul. I learned that day its the brave people not the weak ones who have an open heart. Closed hearted people are the cowards.
MY FRIEND, MY BODY GUARD
The cab dropped me off at my house. As I walked into the kitchen my room mate looked up from his breakfast. What the hell happened to you? Finishing his eggs and potatoes, I told him about the assault. He was six feet four inches of muscle but one hundred percent kindness. His name was Jafar. When I first met him I hid a sheepish grin. Jafar was the name of the evil character in Disney’s Aladdin, one of my favorite animated films. Jafar shared his knowledge of our neighborhood, the streets and how to survive if I still wanted live there. Any day of the week I could call on him.
He would walk with me if I needed to go shopping. He taught me to read body language, when I should say hello or when I should cross the street to avoid eye contact.
Other times Jafar would introduce me to a friend to give me a sense of security. I felt like I had a body guard.
One day he pulled out his knife, a long switchblade. A serious expression came over him.
“David, I may be tall, but I carry this with me everyday. Got to be prepared my man.” Many times God will send people into your life to comfort and cheer you. Jafar was one of these people.
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” Romans 12:19
The phone rang. “Hello, Mr. Thompson I am a juvenile detective with the Jersey City police department, West side. I would like you to come in to look over some of our photos to see if you can identify the person who assaulted you on the night in question.”
I agreed but I insisted on an escort. I still didn’t feel secure enough to go out on the street. The next morning I entered the detective’s office.
The detective specialized in juvenile criminals between the ages of 16 to 19. It was in older building, located the second floor. The stairs were narrow and made of wood.
Each step held within its frame a different squeak as if it could tell a story of those who had climbed them in the past.
In the corner sat an empty swivel chair behind a solid wood desk. The detective offered me a cup of coffee as I sat in the worn but comfortable leather. The entire experience reminded me of my many plays. I loved to play the role of a detective.
On the desk were five to seven photo albums for me to peruse. Sipping the coffee which was anything but good, I began to do searching for the face that I was going to identify. I wanted them to pay for what they did to me.
I noticed a leathery unyielding, sometimes unhinged appearance of their young faces. They took on the illusion of seasoned criminals who are typically 30 to 40 years of age.
These kids experienced a quality of life in a way that I had never experienced. Four hours of searching revealed nothing of that fateful night. But as I poured over the albums hatred was replaced with compassion. Sometimes to take back what is yours, you must embrace forgiveness. That night I asked God to help me. He gave me the power to forgive. The detective thanked me and drove me home. That night I took a knee and prayed for my enemies who tried to kill me.
BACK TO THE MITT
For you are my rock and my fortress; For your name’s sake you will lead me and guide me. Psalm 31:3
Forgiveness opens doors to receive. Before I could take back my life, I had to forgive. Expert psychologists at Hope College claims that not forgiving someone or yourself carries serious consequences. In 2001, the physiological responses of 71 college students were examined. As a controlled study they first dwelled on injustices done to them then imagined themselves forgiving those offenders.
Focusing on unforgiving responses, blood pressure surged, heart rates increased, facial muscles tensed, and negative feelings intensified. In comparison, forgiving produced calmer feelings and physical relaxation. It appears that harboring grudges comes with an emotional and a physiological cost. Forgiveness can cut these costs.
My prayers began to gain in strength and power. I didn’t want to leave my beloved New York, but my act of forgiveness transformed anger into creative energy.
It was no longer safe nor financially practical to live in a neighborhood where I didn’t feel safe. It was something I was no longer willing to take. Seeking another place to live became my new adventure. For two weeks I left early and arrived home before dusk. This was my daily routine.
Carrying a newspaper, I went to Queens, Manhattan and the outskirts of New Jersey. My friends urged me to stay away from the Bronx and Brooklyn.
My intensive search brought little hope. I decided to take the train back to Michigan. This action was necessary but it broke my heart. Even on the day of my departure I found myself talking to people in Manhattan about work and places to live. In my personal experience and contrary to what you may have heard, New Yorkers are among the nicest people in the United States.
“I have become a foreigner in a foreign land.” Exodus 2:22
The train ride back to Michigan was a lonely one. I could feel the dampness in the air as it changed from salty to fresh. For those of you who have experienced the weather patterns of the East Coast and the Mid West, you know what I mean.
I missed the wind off the Atlantic, the smell of the salty air and how the rain would fall almost sideways, lifting umbrellas in the air along with their owners.
About midnight, I prayed for a miracle. I didn’t have a car and it would be a long walk to my mother’s house where I would stay for a few months. The name Kay came into my mind. She was a dear friend from my previous work.
I was pleased and quite surprised when she answered the phone so early in the day. She greeted me at the train station with a hug. The next day a feeling of panic engulfed me. The town I lived in wasn’t anything like New York. The buildings, streets and other establishments appeared like a tiny miniature world.
Have you ever read Gulliver’s Travels? How he was shipwrecked on a strange island where he felt like a giant among men? That is how I felt going back to Michigan.Like Gulliver seeing the village of Lilliput for the first time. The feeling of panic and confusion haunted me so much I consulted a friend of mine. She was a life coach. The panic I was experiencing was similar to a person going through repatriation. Repatriation means to bring back (a person, especially a prisoner of war, a refugee, etc) to his or her country or land of citizenship.
The bible states that as a man thinks in his heart, so he becomes. Proverbs 23:7
For almost a year my heart absorbed every nuance of New York. I was intellectually and emotionally married to the city. The more I examined my heart the more I realized was not unhealthy or strange. Have you ever immersed yourself a passion or purpose that you knew you were born to live?
This for me was and still is New York, people and the arts.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
Thanks to a brilliant dentist and an equally brilliant chiropractor, I have a great smile and a jaw that is properly aligned. The scars on my face have healed completely, save the one above my right eyebrow. I made a dermatology appointment, but I decided against the procedure.
The barely visible scar reminds me of God’s great love and mercy to me. Taking what isn’t yours is stealing. Sometimes life dramatically alters the way you perceive things and precious time is lost forever. Have you experienced a tragedy? Perhaps it was worse than mine. What ever your story is remember; its the questions you ask yourself that will determine success or failure.
Don’t blame the circumstances. During my time of trial, I needed to ask the right questions and ask God to help me find the right answers. It was God and those he planted in my life that helped me to forgive the young man who stole my respect, dignity and confidence. He may have taken my money and time, but the grace of God restored me.
Has someone every called you stupid or made fun of you? These wounds are typically the worst kind, for they hide in the realm of the subconscious mind.
No one can help you unless you acknowledge them and ask for help. I urge you to take back what was taken from you. Go to that person and request their apology and ask God to help you forgive.
Knowing what belongs to you is your power. Taking back what belongs to you is activating that power.
THE BIBLE speaks of a power, an inheritance that is available to you. It was purchased over two-thousand years ago. God sent his only son to die on a cruel cross so that you might take possession of this power.
Now that I have told you, you have the potential to accept the power or reject it. You are no longer ignorant. I urge you to take what is being offered to you by saying this prayer with me.
“Dear Lord Jesus, I believe you died on a cross for me and took the blame for my sin. I believe that you were raised from the dead so that I could have abundant life here on Earth and in Heaven when I die. Thank you Lord for saving me.”
Did you say this prayer like you meant it? If so congratulations! You have been given the love and power of God, your creator through his son Jesus Christ.
Read the bible, pray and find the right church so you may continue your amazing journey with Christ.
Taking what is yours is a daily conscious awareness of your rights as a child of God.