The Knife’s Edge of Hope

March 30th, 2009

knifeThe blade glistened in the late afternoon sun. “Stay away from me!” she screamed.
Wildly she slashed the knife back and forth pointing it in severe warning at both my partner and I. “Stay BACK I SAID!”
She retreated along the kitchen counter as my partner and I slowly moved across the kitchen, splitting up to positioning ourselves on either side of her in order to create as much distance between focal points, and spreading her span of focus as wide as possible. The more she had to move to see each of us, the better chance we would have at disarming her without injury to her or ourselves.

“I know you are going though it right now, but this isn’t the answer. Come on. Put it down. ” I inched closer, reaching one hand out to her with my palm up in a very inviting non-threatening way. But her eyes were wild. She shook her head violently back and forth between my partner and I. “Mary, please? Can I have the knife? Put it down.” “Mary, Put the knife down now.”

My left hand was sliding along the counter as I inched closer with my right hand outstretched gesturing for her to give me the knife. My partner also had his palms out to her in a gesture that almost looked strangely like he was offering a hug. I even thought it was weird, but hey, who knows what’s going to work. He was a little strange anyway so I guess knowing him, it wasn’t too far out of character. But to a depressed, suicidal, homicidal desperate woman who was most likely severely abused and suffering from post traumatic stress, extremely low self image and a severe case of distrust when it came to men, that gesture could have looked like a huge target to stick the knife into. It was a surreal moment. I almost pictured it all in my head; the image of her lunging between those two Frankenstein-like outstretched arms and plunging the knife hilt-deep into his protective vest as his tacky mustache fanned out as his mouth stretched wide into the open mouth surprise “O” and his eyes went wide open behind his 1970′s bad glasses. It made me almost burst out in laughter as the terrible thought of it bore down on me. You see, I laugh as a stress reaction which would have been completely the wrong display of tact, focus and professionalism at that moment. Still, the thought was funny to me, not because he would have been hurt, ………..just because. It’s just one of those moments when you have a completely inappropriate emotional reaction.

Stifling my nervous laugh I continued to inch closer.

I had known Mary for almost a year by the time we found ourselves staring at the business end of a knife in her kitchen. I had spent many hours talking to her and her children and boyfriend in their home trying to resolve domestic disputes, and arguments between mother and daughters. Mary had been hospitalized for depression several times and had even been involuntarily committed for being a danger to herself. I really felt for the family. The daughters were going astray, the boyfriend was taking advantage of the situation by calling her crazy and making her feel even worse than she actually was and she was dealing with a whole cargo ship of baggage from a life spent in the fast lane. She was barely holding onto the well paying job she had and I think I had even spoken to her employer on one occasion and they promised to hold her job for her till she recovered.

But here we were now in her kitchen with her threatening us with an 8-inch knife. We drew closer. A mere 6 feet separated us. I knew she meant us no harm. She was just at the end of her rope and didn’t know what else to do. But i was wrong. She was about to show me that she had one more action to take.

Suddenly she looked at me with the a wild tear filled look in her eyes and turned the knife on herself. In a long sweeping motion she turned the blade towards her self, tilted her head to her right side and crossed her right hand across her chest placing the knife against her throat and was beginning to slice down to open her neck up. My partner and I jumped.

We were on her in a second. As soon as we saw her begin to turn the knife on herself we lunged. My partner, arms already out stretched was halfway to her and he grabbed her arm and yanked it towards him which spun her. We controlled her arms and she quickly dropped the knife and went limp, falling to the floor weeping uncontrollably. She was spent.

The ambulance arrived and we went with her to the hospital where we signed out another order to have her involuntarily committed. But, she voluntarily committed herself and began to get the help she needed. We talked and through all that was said, I only got one message from her: She was hopeless. She never believed that anything would change in her life. She had lost all hope that anything would actually work out for the best. She no longer believed that the bad circumstances that came along were character building opportunities and tests of faith, opportunities to engage in active hope. No, to her, it seemed as if all that came along was bad stuff, depressing stuff, failure and sadness. But if I would have truly believed that to be so, if there really wasn’t any reason for her to live any longer, what would be the point in stopping her? The reason is: I believe in hope. I believe that as long as there is breath, there is hope. I would have fought for her, for her family, because the mattered. Even when she didn’t think she mattered, didn’t think the family mattered, she was worth fighting for. Hope demands it.

So, last I heard she was doing well. The problems didn’t go away but with solid help she was better equipped to deal with the things that came along. There was no charges or anything for wielding the knife. That would have served no purpose. Some officers told us to charge, but my partner and I agreed that neither of us was ever really in any danger and she had no intent on harming us. So we let it go. That was an act of hope as well.

Hang in there. You are being hoped for. You know what it’s like to be hopeless and feel the same way she did. Hope might come from a place where you never expected. Maybe even from here.

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