Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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               He stopped by a little after 5, late on Wednesday afternoon, asking about the library.


               He was 19, a commuter student, and she was in her 50s, a teacher, alone in the office, and she directed him to where he needed to go.



               It was 20 minutes or so later that he came back, with his hand in his pocket, acting twitchy. He asked if she could talk and he asked if he could close the door and she said that wasn’t necessary because no one was around but he closed it anyway.


               This was at St. John Fisher, at the pharmacy school, where people go to learn, or teach, a profession of caring and service, late on Wednesday afternoon. This Wednesday afternoon. The day they sentenced the guy for setting a woman on fire and squirting lighter fluid on her as she writhed and screamed. The day after those two gunpoint carjackings. The day before they sentenced the guy for killing the cop and two other guys; two days before three men got shot down on Exchange Boulevard. The day they heard testimony in the case of the guy who raped and killed the 14-year-old on Thanksgiving back in 1984.


               That Wednesday.


               The deputies would later learn that he was a stalker, and that he’d sent harassing sexual messages to a variety of women, and there he sat, acting twitchy, with his hand in his pocket.


               He said he was anxious and distraught, that he was flunking all his classes, that his dad was going to be mad. She said the university had counseling services, and that she could have security get the counselor on duty.


               Then he said other things, that don’t need to be written here, things of a violent and sexual nature, of a threatening nature, of what he was going to do to her, and then he said he was sorry, stood up, and pulled his hand out of his pocket.


               His hand, and the butcher knife.


               We don’t know anything about her, and we don’t need to, it’s not our business. But most women in their 50s are known around the house as Mom or Grama. Most women in their 50s have spent the flower of their adult lives in the service of their families and their professions. They’ve raised kids, they’ve worked jobs, they’ve paid taxes and carried their load. Den mothers, soccer coaches, PTSA presidents, college teachers. They’ve left a legacy of usefulness and good in the wake of their lives. That’s why most cultures respect them.



               And there he was, the butcher knife in his hand, 19 years old, saying he was sorry, coming at her.


               That was her test. That moment in life which most of us have when circumstance and fate demand that we show who we are, that we stand and deliver or fold and fail. Something primal, in the neighborhood of fight or flight, submit or resist. Maybe it’s conscious and maybe it’s not, maybe it’s instinct or maybe it’s character, to act or to be acted upon, to live or to die.


               They were facing one another, he approaching, the knife was in his right hand, and she sprang at him, more than 30 years her junior. She grabbed his right wrist with her left hand and drove the palm of her right hand hard into his chest, driving him backwards, pushing him backwards, throwing him backwards, against the door, pinning him there and then, with two hands, wrenching the knife out of his hand, then pushing him more, an overpowering force, out the door and out the anteroom door, throwing him out into the hallway and quickly closing the self-locking door between them.


               It was live or die, and she chose to live. It was good versus evil, and good won. It was right versus wrong, and right came out on top.



               And a few hours later, the deputies had him in handcuffs in the back of a cruiser.


               And a community looked on in awe.


               Because in fighting back, this lady saved herself and inspired us. She reminded us that the crooks don’t have to win, that the good people don’t have to retreat, that we don’t have to cower and hide.


               In a day darkened by crime, as the predatory culture of violence metastasizes across our society and ultimately comes to define it, when law means nothing and help isn’t always on the way, this woman fought back.


               She fought back.


               And she won.


               And that gives hope, a light in the season of dark.

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