In the summer of 1973 I had finished work on a graduate degree in history at Ball State University, and my wife Marsi and I were back in Fort Wayne, IN where she was a teacher. I had taken a job as a waiter (server) at a local seafood restaurant while we tried to figure out whether I was going on to pursue my doctorate, find a teaching position, or do something else.
We rented an upstairs apartment in a home owned by dear friends in an historic neighborhood next to the Maumee River. In addition, we had recently taken over care of “Scottie” my wife’s beloved Wire Hair Fox Terrier and kept him penned in the kitchen when we were out. On this particular evening Marsi was out when I returned, and all the lights in the apartment were off. Illumination was provided by two 150-watt floodlights mounted at the top of the stairs above the back door that not only lit up the backyard but also put a blinding glare in your eyes as you climbed the stairs to the apartment.
Coming home I did what I always did, I opened the door, but instead of flipping on the kitchen light I walked toward the hallway, forgetting the barrier we had placed to keep the dog penned. Naturally I tripped over the obstruction and fell. I knew my neighbor downstairs would hear the commotion so I tried to speak as loud as I could to explain what had happened. I then turned on lights and went about my routine as if nothing had happened.
It was a warm summer evening so I left the backdoor open. Our friends had enclosed and created a screened porch during their tenure and we spent much of our time on warm summer evenings there surrounded by a multitude of hanging plants.
A bit later I heard the thumping of feet of someone hurriedly climbing up the steps so I quickly went to the porch. The screened door was hooked so no one could walk in and I arrived the same time as my neighbor from below accompanied by a police officer.
The officer, looking straight into the bright spotlights could only see a black outline of my body the way a performer on stage is blinded by the stage lights from seeing the audience in front of him. My sudden appearance caught both of them a bit off guard and fortunately I spoke first asking if there was a problem, which was a good thing because the officer reflexively reached for his weapon. I explained what had happened and apologized for the noise, and my neighbor explained that hearing me fall he thought there was a burglar and had called the police.
Looking back it is easy to see how this incident could have ended with tragic consequences for all involved. Everything is a matter of circumstances, me tripping over the makeshift barricade, my neighbor assuming there was a burglar and calling the police, the back light shinning down the stairs, which blinded and prevented the police officer from seeing me clearly standing in the doorway and whether or not I constituted a threat.
That incident occurred in 1973. If it had occurred today there is every possibility I would have become a tragic casualty in a cascade of unlikely circumstances. Why? Because we live in a different society where everybody is assumed to be armed and dangerous leaving little room or time for law enforcement, or any of us, to make these kinds of decisions. We have allowed our thinking to become warped and twisted believing in a false need to arm ourselves for war and have created an atmosphere with a kill or be killed mentality that can only poison us all.