In the early 1960s, my dad packed up his family of five and moved us to San Diego, California in the hope of finding the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Dad never found his dream, but while there the Gerencser family found Jesus and became members of a large Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. I attended kindergarten and first grade in California. My memories, as to be expected, are spotty, but one moment in time stands above all others, one I have not forgotten sixty years later.
Most of my time in California was spent living in a small single-story home on Columbine Street. The house sat across the street from a canyon that would provide my siblings and me with countless hours of fun. That said, I can’t imagine letting a 6-year-old, 5-year-old, and 3-year-old play by themselves without adult supervision. Such were the times, I suppose.
In our backyard was a courtyard of sorts, with three other homes closely situated to ours. One day, I heard a bunch of screaming in Spanish. Always a nosey little boy, I went to the courtyard to see what was up. Much to my fascination — at the time — a Mexican man was savagely beating his wife. Adults stood by and did nothing — out of fear, I suspect — as the man inflicted such damage on his wife that one eye popped out of its socket on her blood-soaked face. The man’s white T-shirt was covered with his wife’s blood. As I think about this event decades later, it’s clear that the man intended to murder his wife.
By the time the police arrived, the man had fled the scene, and could be seen attempting to escape via a water pipe of sorts that traversed the canyon. Soon apprehended, he was placed in the back seat of a police car. As the car began to pull away, the man turned to look out the back window. Still filled with rage, his mouth was foaming.
Little children should never have to experience such things in their lives. I am not sure where my mother was at the time, or why she didn’t shield us from the carnage. Perhaps she tried to do so, but my curiosity won the day. Regardless, this event made a deep mark on my life. When confronted with circumstances later in my life, I chose to intercede instead of standing by and fearfully doing nothing as those adults in the courtyard did over half a century ago. I refuse to stand by and do nothing when people use physical strength or power to psychologically or physically harm others. Yes, that means putting myself in harm’s way, but imagine if all of us stood up to bullies and those who use violence to make a point or get their way. If we don’t, who will?
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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