Gerard A. Vanderhaar was Professor Emeritus of Religion and Peace Studies at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee, for 28 years. He authored six books on non-violence and played an important role establishing Pax Christi (Peace of Christ) USA and Pax Christi Memphis. Both “strives to create a world that reflects [the Peace of Christ] by witnessing to the call of Christian nonviolence.”
This reading is from The Class of Nonviolence, prepared by Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace.Vanderhaar reflects on what he would do when faced with a violent confrontation, a desire to “remain calm,” “save my life,” and “diffuse the confrontation and turn it around.” He shares four “true stories about people who were not experienced in nonviolence, not committed to ahimsa, but who did just the right nonviolent thing at the right time.”
A women with two children in a disabled car late one night on the New Jersey Turnpike looked up to see a man pointing a gun through her window. He ordered her to let him into the car. Instead of panicking, she looked him in the eye and, like an angry mother, commanded, “You put that gun away and get in you car and push me to the service area. And I mean right now!” He looked startled, put the gun away, went back to his car, and did as ordered, pushed her car to the service area.
Jesus help me!
A colleague of mine walking late one winter afternoon was jumped by two young men hiding in the bushes under a viaduct. They demanded money. He said he didn’t have any. They began punching him, repeating their demand for money. He felt helpless and didn’t know what to do. Then it flashed into his mind to call for the only assistance he could think of. He rolled his eyes and started shouting, “Jesus help me. Jesus help me!” And they stopped hitting him and looked at him as if he were crazy. And they ran away.
Fear + Relief
A lady drove into the parking garage of Memphis’ largest hospital one afternoon to visit a friend. As she eased her car into a space she noticed a strange-looking man lurking nearby. No one else was in sight. She usually kept a gun in her glove compartment, she said later, but that afternoon she had left home without it. She had to think fast. She got out of the car, and as the man came over, she looked squarely at him and said in as firm a voice as she could muster, “I’m so glad there’s a man around. Could you walk me to the elevator?” He replied meekly, “Yes, ma’am.” She thanked him, got on the elevator alone – and practically collapsed out of fear and relief.
A large man laughs
A large-statured friend of mine, a long-time peace activist, wasn’t passed over once. In a small town in South Dakota, on a sidewalk in full daylight he was suddenly faced with a much smaller man flashing a knife and demanding money. My friend, who has very little money anyway, said that the first thing he thought of was the incongruity of their sizes. “All I could do was laugh,” he said. He didn’t feel any fear, although later he said he was surprised he hadn’t. His self-confidence was deep. The assailant glanced up at him, looked puzzled, then turned and ran away.