Sunday, November 14, 2021

An Altercation and an Intervention: A Memory from My Year in Puerto Rico

When I was in Bible school I did an internship in Puerto Rico. There were a number of classmate interns there that year living at a small compound associated with Libreria Betania, a Christian bookstore and distributor of Christian literature. Once a week I was also involved with prison ministry at the Bayamon Prison

My workspace most of that year was a desk at the front of the warehouse in a small office area with several other desks. I recall very little of what my work consisted of there. In the evenings I often went there for privacy. I would read, do journaling or write long letters to Susie to whom I was engaged. She was in Maine that year and we were to be married the following summer.

One night, while I was seated at my desk in the office, I heard voices on the sidewalk outside. They were talking in Spanish, so I couldn't understand what they were saying due to my limited vocabulary. One voice sounded like a man who was drunk and pleading, the other seemed to be shouting threats. I felt prompted go see what was going on. 

When I stepped outside I saw the altercation directly in front of me ten feet away. One man was holding a knife to the throat of a second man. They were each in their thirties, each with a wiry build wearing button down short sleeved shirts. The tendons seemed to stand out on the bare arm of the man with the knife who was facing away from me, looking into the eyes of the man he was threatening, the point of his knife under the other man's chin. 

There was a gate between us, so I didn't feel threatened by making my presence known. I stepped forward and shouted in a harsh attention-getting tone. "Hey. What's going on here!" 

The man with the knife twisted his head around to look directly into my face. He then threw the knife so that it skittered across the sidewalk and ended up at my feet. His features became rigid as he turned and walked away.

The drunk, who was leaning with his back against a parked car there, gathered himself together, stood and glanced at me before walking off in the other direction. His demeanor was tragic, a caricature of a character in a Hemingway story, but he was still alive.

I picked up the knife and looked at its serrated edge, a standard steak knife. 

* * * 

Here's the takeaway. We often hear people say, "See something, say something." It's a good admonition. When you see something wrong, speak up. The result might surprise you. 

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