Angels Unawares

I have a dear friend I met through work (obliquely – he’s not an employee) named Bobby. We soon discovered that we’re kindred spirits, despite the fact that we have almost nothing in common: I work in an office, he’s a firefighter and EMT; I’m almost 30, he’s almost 50; I’m white, he’s black; I’m Mormon, he’s nondenominational Christian. But on those happy, rare occasions when our schedules align for lunch, we have hours-long, reflective conversations about a wide range of topics including religion, politics, current events, feminism, and racial injustice. His stories often make me cry (once I’m safely back at home – I’m not a public crier), like his retelling of the time an elderly white woman, in middle of a heart attack, screamed for her purse and clutched it tightly with both hands after Bobby stepped in to perform a life-saving maneuver on her.

But the biggest gut punch I’ve had from him lately wasn’t an anecdote on racial tension. 15 years ago, he worked as a corrections officer inside a prison. Two years after he changed jobs, he was leaving a bar late one night and heard someone shout his name from across the darkened parking lot. As the figure approached, Bobby realized with sudden dread that it was one of his previous inmates. Afraid for his safety but trying to act casual, he opened his truck door and leaned against the driver’s seat, placing his hand on the pistol stowed underneath. The man walked quickly up to him with a stoic expression on his face and…pulled Bobby in for a crushing, overly-long bear hug, repeating how glad he was to see him again, and thanking him profusely for treating him with respect when he was in prison.

Bobby has never carried a gun since.


  1. Jessie, thank you for sharing this. I want everyone I know to read it.

  2. lastlemming says:

    Which reminds me of how Dallin Oaks chose to defend himself. The story begins about 2/3 the way through.

  3. John Mansfield says:

    A fellow quorum member told of the same experience (jail officer encountering unexpected and as it turned out friendly physical contact by a former inmate in a public place). His reaction was the opposite: thankfulness that he was carrying and resolve to always do so. When I knew him, the sheriff’s department was behind him and he was part of the Secret Service. Having him at church and scout outings did add a feeling of security, an odd feeling since armed, expert protection was a pretty low need.

  4. Jessie, this is amazing. Thanks.

  5. really inspiring!

  6. So glad you shared this!

  7. Thanks for this post, Jessie.

  8. One time someone you were afraid of turned out to be nice and had good intentions, now you are going to act like everyone is nice and has good intentions? Seems like a bad anecdote to put your trust in …

  9. Jax, you may want to take some time to reflect on that comment you just made, and what it says about you as a person. Or are you offering yourself up as an anecdote to counter Jessie’s?

  10. PS Jax is the lamest Mortal Kombat character, so there.

  11. What? Really? That was your takeaway? That he, a previous corrections officer, suddenly thought “everyone is nice and has good intentions”? Try another, less dumb conclusion.

  12. Pity Jesus wasn’t armed–you know what they say, only a good man with a spear can stop a bad man with a spear!

  13. My reactions as I read this post, in chronological order, were
    1. Bobby seems like a guy I’d love to talk to
    2. It’s awesome that Bobby would treat a prisoner with enough respect that the prisoner had fond remembrances of him as a guard
    3. Is the last line a non sequitur?

    So after Steve’s calling Jax out, I’ve tried to arrive at the takeaway a decent person would have. Perhaps this anecdote is like a joke, in that if it has to be explained to me, it clearly can’t have the desired effect on me, but the last line was the punchline and not a throwaway, right? So, the only thing I could come up with is that Bobby felt shame because reaching for the gun didn’t live up to his ideal which had made the prisoner grateful, right?

  14. Martin James says:

    The logic is like this. Bobby is black. Bobby realizes that if he is reaching for a gun, then so may be some other current or former police or correctional officer and so having a gun increases his chance of getting shot out of other people’s fear which he had never realized until it was his fear reaching for a gun.

  15. Thanks for posting this, Jessie.

  16. Martin, because he came this close to killing a man who was there to hug him.

  17. I don’t comment here as much, but reading this today makes me glad I still hang around.

    Sometimes it’s better to savor the post without trying to analyze it to a deconstructed pile of incomprehensible bits. This was sweet, in the best sense of the word. I’m envious of your friendship.

  18. Jesse, from the other side of the world, thanks for sharing this. Here’s to such kindred spirits everywhere.

  19. As reported to us, he did NOT almost kill a man. He didn’t injure him, nor even threaten him. He reaped what he sowed; kindness and respect. Which is awesome!

    But it is not unkind, unreasonable, or un-Christian to take precautions for your defense when you feel threatened. When it became clear that the threat didn’t exist he acted appropriately. Great! That is how things should work.

    As a former Corrections Officer, and as someone who experienced this scenario without the good intentions/happy ending, it seems foolish to me to not behave exactly the same next time: be prepared to defend yourself and be thrilled when you don’t need to!

  20. Clearly other people, including Bobby himself, drew a different conclusion from the story “as reported.”

    It’s not un-Christian? Jesus Christ was prepared at all times to use deadly force to defend himself?

    Regardless of all that, Bobby personally experienced something and underwent a change of heart. Who are you to invalidate his experience?

  21. Providing personal defense is not un-Christian! In fact in our church it is a stated responsibility of men “fathers are to …provide …protection for their families”

    Sometimes we need to be like the Anti-Nephi-Lehi people, and other times we need to be Captain Moroni. That same Christ who allowed himself to be crucified, slaughtered all the first-born in Egypt. He said, “Love thy neighbor” but also said, “and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”

    “Other people” didn’t have the experience with Bobby, so their conclusion is just as imbued as mine is with our own experiences. My conclusion is that Bobby didn’t need to change anything about his behavior. He apparently accepted and returned a long bear-hug with the man. Being prepared for self-defense didn’t alter/hinder that event, did it? Nor is there reason to suggest that being similarly prepared would prevent other happiness in the future. It might prevent some serious unhappiness though. Everything worked out great it seems… why change anything?

  22. “That same Christ who allowed himself to be crucified, slaughtered all the first-born in Egypt.”

    And from this we get the lesson that we should pack heat. C’mon man.

  23. Well that escalated quickly from “My friend made the personal decision to stop carrying a gun” to “Jesus is a baby killer.”

  24. yeah, bizarre

  25. “C’mon” Steve… read a bit and see that Jesus use of deadly force was brought up by someone other than me, so I provided an example… completely relevant to the conversation. In response… no refutation of the point, just “C’mon man” ??

    Jessie, neither of those are quotes from me. You seem to be having a different discussion than I am. However, you suggested it was un-Christlike to use deadly force. I provided an example of Christ using deadly force. You ridicule that example, but is it incorrect?

    True of false, your friend Bobby had his great experience while armed for self-defense. If true, then why make the change?

    You could put it like this: While doing A, B happened. I liked result B so therefore I’m going to stop doing A. That doesn’t make any sense at all. In this case A didn’t cause nor hinder B, they are unrelated really, so making the decision to stop doing A makes no logical sense.

  26. Bobby realized that having the handgun meant he almost murdered a friendly acquaintance. He decided he didn’t want that risk in his life anymore. It’s not complicated.

  27. What a terribly untrue statement this is: “having a handgun meant he almost murdered …”

    The possession of a handgun MEAN a murder almost happened. He didn’t almost kill anyone. He neither killed, injured, maimed, threatened, or scared anyone. For a moment, the presence of that gun made him feel safe, and then I bet he felt euphoric that he didn’t need to use it, and then joy at a reunion.

    You’re right that it isn’t complicated. Bobby had no way to know or control the other persons intentions. If they were good, then the gun wasn’t needed; it was neutral and created no negatives. If his intentions were negative, then having the gun was needed; it was a positive. In the scenario presented there was no negative to having the gun (the joyful reunion happened WITH THE GUN PRESENT!) but there were potential positives. Not complicated at all: carrying for self defense is either a positive or neutral, and has no downside!

    Not carrying is a good and acceptable choice too! Especially if you are uncomfortable with a firearm. If you feel unsafe with one, you probably are… please don’t!! What doesn’t make sense to me is to hear a story of when you thought you might need one but didn’t, and conclude that you wouldn’t carry one again.

  28. “You ridicule that example, but is it incorrect?”

    Yes, it is incorrect. It is a grievous error and a sin to insinuate that (a) Jesus is a murderer and therefore (b) I am entitled to use deadly force.

  29. A) Jesus is not a murderer and I never stated He was. B) People are entitled to use deadly force (under many circumstances).

    You seem to equate using deadly force with murder… you are wrong if that is your position.

  30. Causing death does =/= murder. Using a gun =/= death. Carrying a gun =/= using a gun (see story above)… the logical leap from carrying a gun to murder is ridiculous. Bobby from above did not kill, nor almost kill anyone because he possessed a gun. People who possess and carry guns =/= murderers or near murderers.

  31. Jax, in this situation, it came close enough to [carrying a gun = murder] that it rattled him, and he resolved to remove that risk in the future. Again, I ask: Who are you to invalidate his experience?

    The OP was a true account of what happened to him, and how it changed his behavior. There is literally nothing to argue.

  32. Correction: Jesus isn’t a murderer, just a killer.

  33. Eve of Destruction says:

    I once took a gun safety class at the urging of a family member who wanted me to arm myself for self-defense. The first lesson was: never point a gun toward anyone unless you intend to kill that person. I asked if that was just the rule for beginners, and if we became more advanced would we be taught how to shoot to maim or disarm, and I was told no, using a gun for self-defense always means shooting to kill. After thinking through a lot of scenarios for several weeks, I personally came to the decision that there were no circumstances under which I would intentionally kill a person. Maybe I’m just an Anti-Nephi-Lehi at heart. Maybe Bobby became one.

  34. Jessie, you posted this publicly… Did you not expect/desire opinions on it. I think he is fine in choosing not to carry a pistol anymore, but that the anecdote for doing so didn’t make sense and I hope others don’t use this story as a reason to do likewise. Am I only supposed to express agreeing sentiments? Is disagreement disallowed?

    “The OP was a true account of what happened to him, and how it changed his behavior. There is literally nothing to argue.” Right, because that’s what happens in these posts, they simply state what happened at conference and nobody offers why they thought it was wrong, or could have been improved, or insulting, or funny…oh wait. We always dissect whether a certain decision makes sense, or if a different course of action would be better because of X, Y, or Z. Then we discuss and disagree and discuss. There are discussions on whether the Lord is racist because of the new Apostles were all white… we don’t simply state, “Well, that’s that. No arguing!” We discuss the meaning and motives behind things. That’s what is happening. I don’t dispute the facts of the story, just questioning the rationale.

    Steve. so does your correction mean you think it is sinful to insinuate Jesus is a killer? Or are you correcting something else I’ve missed?

    Eve, Good! Please allow that all police officers have had that thought and decided that there ARE circumstances when THEY would be willing to kill; and that they are still good people despite that decision.

  35. Little Sister says:

    John, Jax, and Martin’s comments remind me of the lessons I heard over and over and over again as a Young Woman: Premarital sex is the sin next to murder. (See, e.g., The solutions presented for avoiding premarital sex were to “literally run” from the appearance of evil, avoid doing anything like it, drive your wagon cart as far away from the cliff side as you possibly can (, do not travel alone in cars with single boys even to church activities, and on and on.

    Of course, suggestions for avoiding the sin that IS murder? Carry a gun at all times to protect your family.

  36. There’s a big difference between disagreement and argument, especially when your entire argument is centered on the fact that you believe Bobby should think the exact same way you do, because Jesus slaughtered babies. You pretty much lost any semblance of credibility with that one.

  37. “Steve. so does your correction mean you think it is sinful to insinuate Jesus is a killer?”

    Yes. I’ll go on record saying that I think it is sinful to insinuate that Jesus is a killer.

  38. Eve of Destruction says:

    Jax, my story was a response to the post, not to you. As to what other people decide they are willing to do, that’s between them and God. I don’t understand why anyone would feel like they needed some random person on the internet such as myself to tell them they were a good person despite a particular decision, unless maybe they had exceptionally low self-esteem and were really unsure of themselves, and in that case, I would recommend that if they need reassurance, they turn to the Lord and to the people in their life who love them. That is all.

  39. Is the death of the 1st born of Egypt a disputed account here? How could I lose credibility by citing scriptural events on a religiously themed blog? Is it considered axiomatic here that Christ doesn’t cause any deaths, and therefore all contradictory citations are unwelcome or repugnant?

    Isn’t every disagreement/argument caused by thinking others should think the way we do? Isn’t that your disagreement with me? That I don’t see this event the same as you?

    Little Sister, I assume you don’t commit adultery, bear false witness, steal, etc. everyday even though you have the necessary equipment with you all the time. Well, millions don’t commit murder everyday even though they have the necessary tools available.

  40. A couple of things that, as a faithful LDS Mormon, I take as pretty unshakable assumptions:

    1. When my children sing “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus,” they are not singing about trying to be like the God of the Old Testament.

    2. When Jesus says “what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am,” he is not saying we ought to be the kind of people who commit genocide.

    And a slightly less serious thought: If walking the dark streets of the naked city unarmed and then simply using his enemy’s own weapon to murder him when moved upon by the spirit was good enough for Nephi, maybe it should be good enough for the rest of us.

  41. I appreciate the responses to my comment. I honestly had to be led. I guess I didn’t picture Bobby as being about to shoot someone. I pictured him as a man who’d seen some of the worst of humanity up close and personal, which explains why he carried a gun and why he’d reach for it in that situation (an overabundance of caution). Both seemed normal given what he would have experienced in prison, and I didn’t see either as a moral failing.

    By the way, I’m not a gun owner or advocate, so I really don’t have an agenda. I simply didn’t see what the rest of you might find obvious.

  42. SGNM,
    1. The LDS Church teaches that the God of the OT (Jehovah) and Jesus are one and the same.
    2. And I’m too old to count on getting an enemy’s weapon away from him, I’ll just have to refrain from walking the dark streets of naked cities! Not that I understand what a naked city is, I was raised in Utah and never saw one of those, but I heard rumors that they exist across the state line in Nevada.

  43. Echoing what I believe Old Man is saying… I don’t try to pick and choose what qualities of Christ I or my children emulate. I try to be like Him in any and all ways possible.

  44. Powerful post. I love the array of reactions to it, as well. The mystery of these kinds of moments makes them all the more beautiful and meaningful.

    Little Sister, that analogy is brilliant. I’ll be thinking about that one for a long time.

  45. My husband is a FF/EMT/Batt. Chief for THE busiest department in the entire southeast. We are talking 27 calls in a 24 hour period. He has seen it ALL. The worst, the best and everything in between.
    He will always carry a gun because it doesn’t matter what color we are, if someone intends to do us harm, they won’t care if we offer them a hug or if we are standing casually.
    Glad to hear your friend’s story because it’s definitely unique.

    I wish that what we see as a black culture here in the SE was more inline with bear hugs from inmates. But…it’s not. The entitlement mentality is rampant and so frustrating for those of us who are trying to help others help themselves.

    I am a former RSP and I cannot tell you the number of food orders I had to do for people who would be muting their HBO movie on their big screen TV so that they could hear me as we spoke.

    Anyway – good story. Thanks for sharing.

  46. Chare, not sure what to say about your comment except that it sounds like you’re having some very racial feelings about things. I hope I’m not right and I’m just misreading you.

  47. Jessie, a fantastic post. Thank you.

    Chare: an offensive stereotype- riddled comment. Some racism, some classism, mixed together like so much doodoo.

  48. Oh the gun worship. Sad to see.

  49. There is no gun worship, but a realistic belief in the importance of self defense, family defense, and societal defense.

    Many acts of violence have been thwarted by the resolve of armed individuals outside of government authority. Indeed, our nation would not exist without it, and quite frankly most gun owners recognize that fact and will certainly resist any attempts at being disarmed by coercion.

    Persuade all you like. But we disagree.

    The most basic societal liberties we possess are freedom of movement, freedom to an honest days work to provide for our families, and freedom to defend ourselves from unwanted aggression. I find it ironic that both political parties here are seeking to destroy those freedoms.

    It’s an objective fact that governments have murdered more people than armed individuals. When you persuade society to disarm there military and police, then I will listen to your appeals. Seeing as how we all agree disarming the military and police would be insane, and for the same reasons on a micro level we should not disarm ourselves; I can only conclude a mental defect in logic of those who wish me to be without the means of self defense.

    By the way, the story of the prisoner and the guard is touching. I was in prison and ye visited me. The prisoner as a type of Christ is not a new analogy. That fact must be balanced with the natural man is an enemy, fallen, devilish, etc. which is also scriptural truth.

    I could tell a story of someone breaking into a trailer and raping a child while the family helplessly looks on. Which is more tragic? It’s not a rhetorical question without answer.

  50. “There is no gun worship…”

    Of course there’s gun worship. There has been gun worship since guns were invented. People can and do worship anything that gives them power over other people: money, guns, armies and navies, education, social status, beauty.

  51. John Mansfield says:

    Eve of Destruction’s gun instructor was exaggerating. (“Never point a gun toward anyone unless you intend to kill that person.”) I say that based on my experience of a policeman jumping out his car and pointing his gun to me. He did not intend to kill me, he just wanted me to know that he could if I didn’t comply with his instructions. Although it was an exciting experience, I had no fear for my life; if he had wanted to shoot, then he wouldn’t have still been pointing the gun at me. I complied with the instructions, he put down the gun, confusion was resolved, and everyone parted in peace with a story to tell.

  52. John Mansfield says:

    Bobby seems to be a caring conversationalist, sharing with Jessie Jensen the stories that would be most meaningful, even tear-provoking, for her. If he were chatting with Jax, he would probably pull up different stories from his firefighter, EMT, corrections officer past.

  53. What’s scary is that all the people in this thread who are showing they have terrible judgement, lack of empathy, and poor understanding of the gravity of taking a life are the ones advocating widespread gun carrying.

  54. Little Sister is correct. Carrying a gun makes you far, far more likely to die in a gun-related death. People advocating for guns as a means of defense – you do realize that it makes society as a whole more dangerous and actually makes you and your family less safe, right?

    John Mansfield is also right. So who knows! The world is upside down.

  55. Has it occurred to anyone on this thread that Bobby might actually read it, and it would behoove is to behave a little less rudely in a discussion about what for him was a deeply personal experience? I’m so embarrassed that this is what he will see, this is the welcome we’ve given him to the world of Mormon.

  56. Eve of Destruction says:

    Well, Cynthia L, it’s certainly realistic. No different than my family or my ward.

    John Mansfield, you seem awfully certain in your estimation of someone you never met. My gun instructor was NRA certified and had decades of experience, and after I asked him to clarify the point, I was very sure that he was sincere and not exaggerating to make a point to a beginner class. This version of the rule is on the NRA’s own website: “ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.This is the primary rule of gun safety. A safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off it would not cause injury or damage.” The self-defense version of the rule is that pointing the gun at the attacker’s torso such that it would cause the attacker’s death is also a safe direction.

    Maybe you are just being nitpicky about what it means to “intend” to kill someone. That intent might be there one moment and waver the next. Intent can come and go. A person holding a gun might intend to kill another person but only if that other person fails to obey an order, for example. The intent is there, but it’s conditional. Intent is a really complicated thing to try to pin down or spell out or unravel, we could argue about it for ages (I won’t, though), but pulling a trigger is simple and just takes an instant and can’t be undone. So I agree with you as far as the idea that the mental state of intent to kill does not map neatly onto actions such as reaching for a gun, pointing a gun, pulling a trigger.

    It’s also entirely possible that some police officers sometimes don’t use best practices. A police officer simply pointing a gun at someone has been found in certain situations to be a use of excessive force.

  57. Bobby’s story, like the Book of Mormon story of the Lamanites burying their weapons of war, is about how life experiences change our hearts (and, inevitably, our behavior). If you don’t have a problem with one, you shouldn’t have a problem with the other. I found this story very inspiring, but it didn’t inspire me to start a political argument.

  58. It’s self righteous to think that people who don’t own guns are higher minded than those who do own them.

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