It was not my usual walk in the park.
There I was, late on a Sunday afternoon in July, making my way in broad and sunny daylight through the beautiful 27-acre park near my home in Lower Mills.
As usual, my thoughts were off in a quiet reverie – as I approach my 70th birthday, I no longer move swiftly, yet I remain committed to regular walks to forestall some of the downside effects of aging.
Suddenly, and without any sort of warning, I felt an arm reach around my neck from behind. It seemed at first to be maybe a friend, horse-playing as guys can do, with a sneak-up surprise. But the grip was very strong, and it was squeezing the air out of my lungs and the blood out of my head. This was no friend.
I tried to say “I can’t breathe,” but the grip was so strong, I couldn’t make a sound to call out for help. For a second or two, my mind focused: Was this an assault by some external force, or was it “The Big One,” that sudden, fatal heart attack the old man on “Sanford and Son” used to worry about.
In the light of hindsight, I now understand that someone I never saw, who came from someplace behind me, spotted an easy target for a robbery to, maybe, score money for a drug hit to get through the day.
Even now, I have no idea if it was a man or a woman, short or tall, a kid or an adult. But for that brief moment in time, I was an easy prey who, as the chokehold squeezed tighter, was left, to think, “Is this how it all ends?”
Then I passed out.
When I regained consciousness, it was as if I were waking up from an uneasy sleep. As I rolled around on the grass and dirt, I realized I was lying outside, in my neighborhood park. My wallet was gone, one shoe and sock were off, lying in the mud nearby. Dazed and uncertain, I picked myself up and stumbled back to the path to look for help.
Then, another realization: I was still alive!
I have long believed that my spiritual self centers on the strength that has reposed in me from the time of my Confirmation, when, through the steady hands of Cardinal Cushing, the Holy Spirit found a home in my soul. That same spirit was with me in the park on Sunday, and saw me through those treacherous moments.
I am okay now; life will go on for me, and I will be more attentive for the experience in the park, while encouraging others to be vigilant, too. My attacker, a coward who used stealth and brute force to shatter a 70-year-old man’s sense of well being in a peaceful community place, isn’t worth thinking about any more. Like all predators, this person has slipped back into the shadows where criminal spirits thrive and humanity goes wanting.
Anecdotally, I have heard that a man was seen lurking suspiciously in the park shortly before I came on the scene. Maybe he was my assailant; who knows?
But this bit of information is a reminder that everyone needs to take care when out and around and report suspicious or anti-social behavior to the authorities in the interest of the common welfare.
I am grateful to all who sent their prayers and messages of support and encouragement to me and my family in the wake of the assault. The Holy Spirit was present in all the words of support from friends – and strangers – through phone calls, visits and social network postings.
I owe a special measure of gratitude to my son Bill, who was truly my first responder; to an amazing pair of Boston EMTs and the police officers from C-11 who came quickly to the scene; to Della Costello, who shared long waiting hours in the Carney Hospital emergency room, and to the medical providers who saw me through.
God bless Father Jack Ahern, that wondrously Christian pastor who materialized in my ER cubicle and watched with me through the arduous wait for a diagnosis.
A photo the next morning shows me with Mayor Marty Walsh, who had phoned during those hospital hours and offered his support. The spirit of charity and generosity certainly resides with our mayor.
I have always believed that where there’s life, there is hope, and today I still have both. When I add to that a family’s love, and friendships across our neighborhood and wonderful city, I count myself blessed.
I was back in the park on Tuesday and took a stroll down that very same path. It was gratifying to see so many families using the playground, including some of my own grandkids. Joggers and dog-walkers were around every bend. Neighbors stopped to exchange greetings. A C-11 police cruiser rolled through quietly at one point and then moved along.
I’ll keep walking in Dot Park- as I hope you will too. And friends and neighbors will join me tonight at the “bowl” on Adams Street for a free concert by a Motown cover group, the Soul City Band.
You can imagine how happy I will be to be there- and I hope to see you there.