Several years ago in Antigua, Guatemala. My father, brother and myself decided to ride a difficult trail in the Water Volcano roughly 30 minutes from the old capital of Guatemala. The views were fantastic and the day beautiful. The country of Guatemala is a gorgeous place full of vibrant rain forests teeming with all sorts of wild life. The kind of creatures you see only on television.
We had three ATV’s my father and made off to the trail. Our ascent was incredibly quick. We made good time until we started to enter heavier and thicker foliage. At this point we were already several hours in and decided to turn back. Hunger and the prospect of riding in darkness are strong deterrents.
As our descent progressed we noticed several farm workers running up the in the opposite direction. At first glance we paid no mind to this and continued on down. As we approached a narrow bend with particularly heavy foliage on one side, six armed men machetes and hand guns jumped out as we were passing. I would like to take a moment and say that unless you are a trained professional in handling situations of this nature, you will most likely freeze or do something stupid that will get you killed. The uncertainty of continued life tends to paralyze all but the most hardened or trained men. I understand clearly now why the military places so much emphasis on following orders regardless of “feelings”. Those orders and actions will save your life.
As the men moved closer to us I could see they held the trigger finger right on the shooting position. As anyone who has ever held a gun will tell you. Big mistake! Accidental fire is a real thing. They proceed to surround us and began to search all our pockets and equipment. I began to pray. I remember kneeling voluntarily. Here your thoughts become very singular in nature. For me it was preservation. Preservation of life. The saying my life “flashed before my eyes” I take to understand something differently. At this moment you ponder death. You wonder how your family and loved ones would react and continue without you. At least this is were my mind took me.
After taking everything that was loose and could be carried easily the men shouted all sorts of profanities and threatened us again telling us we were lucky they didn’t leave our dead bodies on this trail. They disappeared into the foliage. It took several minutes for us to gather our wits and decide they were actually gone. We made back to our house and stopped by some local law enforcement and explained to them what had happened. Of course there was no expectation of recovering anything or apprehension of these criminals. As we made it back we all gave each other the same look and knew that what had occurred would always be with us. It was one of those moments engraved into the psyche.
I spent many months thinking about this event. The people that robbed us at gun point. My younger brother and how he was affected. My father and the sense of culpability. I rationalized this event in very basic terms.
Human needs. The ever classic pyramid style of necessities come to mind. Better know as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As the lower tiers of needs are met then we being to look up towards the other “necessities” which can bring feelings of happiness and fulfillment in our daily lives. When our needs are not being fulfilled and society “fails” to provide adequate opportunity, then the basic functions human nature will take over. Here there will a crucial path every individual placed under these circumstances will need to make. Will I endanger my life and that of my fellow man to obtain the basic necessities or will I persevere in some other fashion (i.e. hard work, determination, faith).
Where will that moral compass take you? Will you let society and the circumstance control your actions? Will they drive you to a life of petty crime and eventual premature death? Or will you confront this obstacle with the determination of a flowing white rapid river, breaking and molding everything to its will with time.
Most people wont know these circumstances until they are enveloped in some event that makes them choose. Forcing that vital moral decision between good and evil. These people made the wrong choice. I pray then that they never have to pay the ultimate price for their decision.