He Was Ready to Hit Me

By Calhoun Geiger, Set in the U.S.A.

Heather Kroger, age 17 watercolor and colored pencil

Matthew Ward, age 11, colored pencil

Marco Chacon, age 16

Matthew Ward, age 11, colored pencil

Matthew Ward, age 11, colored pencil

One day in spring 1947 I was in Florida, plowing a field for a friend. I had been a conscientious objector during World War II, and was happy to be home, farming, again.

A group of convicts was working near the field. I stopped near some bushes hedging that side of the field to adjust the plow. A man came from the bushes, wearing a convict’s uniform, carrying a tool handle as a heavy club.

He stopped near me and said, “I need money bad, and whatever you have, I’m going to take.”

I said: “If you need help that badly, just say so, and we won’t have any rough stuff.” I went back to work. 

He lowered his club. 

I said, “You’re running away. Do you realize you will be hunted?” He said yes, but the chain gang bosses were mean. 

We talked while I worked. Suddenly he dropped the club. “You win,” he said. “I’m going back.” He disappeared into the bushes. After a prayer of thanks, I kept plowing. 

Several years later, I was on my way home, nearing an intersection, when two cars crashed there.

The drivers ran at each other, fists flying. One went down. The other kicked him and struck him with a wrench.

I was tempted to go home, but an inner voice urged, “No! Stop and help!” There was no time to find a phone to call the police. The inner voice spoke again: “You are strong. Move quickly!”

From behind I wrapped my arms around the attacker. He struggled, but I held on, not hurting him. When someone nearby offered help. I asked him to call the police. When I explained what had happened, they let me go home. Later, I regretted that I had not looked at either man’s face.

Several years later a worker called from a local mental hospital where I volunteered to say George Harris, a former patient, had recognized me there. I said I didn’t know any George Harris. The hospital worker said Harris told her he was the escaped prisoner, and the driver who would have killed the other if I had not intervened. 

Harris said when he got out of hospital, he went to work and started saving money. Now he wanted to mail a gift for me – a very nice watch.

He wrote periodically to say he was doing well, and sent beautiful gifts several times. I always responded with thanks to the return address. He never replied, but one day a car pulled up and the driver said, “Cal Geiger …I believe.”

“Yes,” I said, “and who are you?”

“George Harris,” he answered.

He had become a teacher, and had a wife and children. His health was poor now, and he wanted to see and thank me before dying. He walked to his car and left. What one says and does can make a big difference. I made a difference for George Harris, but also for myself. I am overwhelmingly grateful I knew him.

Discussion Questions

  • When George Harris, the escaped convict, approached Calhoun Geiger in the field, why do you think Calhoun continued working on his plow? How did this make a difference in the situation?
  • What do you think George Harris thought when Calhoun Geiger started talking with him as if the club were not important? Why do you think George was so open to listen to what Calhoun said?
  • One of the ways Calhoun Geiger’s response was nonviolent is that he asked questions but did not make judgments about George Harris’ behavior nor try to tell him what to do. Why do you think this worked for Calhoun?
  • In what ways do you think that Calhoun’s actions, when he grabbed and held the driver, were nonviolent?
  • Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations): No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • How do you think Calhoun may have been motivated by the essence of Article 5, that no one should be subjected to cruel treatment?
  • What do you think could have led George Harris to write to Calhoun Geiger after so many years? How would it be different if George had never gotten in touch with Calhoun Geiger?
  • How would it be different if Calhoun had gotten in touch with George Harris instead of the other way around?
  • What do you find the most amazing or surprising thing about this story? What assumptions or beliefs about human behavior do people have that the story seems to challenge?
  • Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations): All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
  • Article 3. of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations) Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
  • When Calhoun was approached by the convict while working in his field, he did not show the man that he was afraid of him but said he would help him. Can you see a connection between Calhoun’s behavior and Article 1 and 3?