The air was smoky.

Yesterday morning, about 10 minutes after getting aboard the “el” bound for downtown Chicago, my wife, Bridgett, and I detect a mysterious cigarette smoke. We can’t identify the source. Figuring it must be some covert sneak-smoker we’re not able to spot, at the next stop we scoot onto the platform and into the adjoining car.

Fateful move.

Less than a minute later, five males move from the other end of the car past us. They go up to a few people, a group of two or three, it’s unclear who is with whom—and facing them directly is a man of about 30 years old. Appearing street-wise and a bit rough around the edges, he is 10 feet in front of us.

None of this really grabs my attention until what happens next: all of a sudden, without any words being exchanged, one from the group and this street-wise guy shove each other. No punches, but also no telling what could come next.

A History Between the Two Sides

There’s a history here between these two sides, whether moments old or with a longer simmering feud, I have no clue. Just about everyone on the train is a spectator—leery of putting ourselves in the thick of this abrupt danger.

There is one exception: in the next instant, Bridgett, only 5 feet away from the standoff, leaps to her feet. She surges between the man and the group and spreads out her 5-foot-2 frame, extending her arms like an umpire calling a baserunner safe.
This photo is a re-enactment of how Bridgett looked, minus the purple socks.

“Absolutely not!!!” she exclaims, shaking her head.

Where there had just been a silent menace rising, now an adamant, don’t mess-with-me maternal authority has taken command of the moment.

Both parties stand down as Bridgett adds loudly and firmly, “There’s more than you on here.” She is speaking up for the dozen or so of us bystanders who simply want to get to our destinations in peace. There is no push-back, either verbally or physically.

I am on the edge of my seat, not wanting to disrupt the peace-making momentum but also mindful that my wife has put herself on the line here. A few moments later, the group drifts back to the other end of the car. Bridgett stands her ground, two-toned purple socks, blue jeans, puffy green jacket, and red hair peeking out from under her winter hat topped with a pompom.

If either party has any notion of reviving the showdown, she has presented an authoritative barrier. About a minute later, after peering back and forth to monitor the situation, I stand up to establish a larger physical buffer. It’s around this time that Bridgett realizes the group consists of young teen boys—they look to be 14 or 15 years old.

Where There’s Smoke…

Later, we detect the cigarette smoke, stronger than ever. It’s coming from the teen–the one who had mixed it up with the man–puffing defiantly on the other end of the car. Turns out this youngster was the one who had drawn us to the car, just in time for Bridgett to step up in her Don’t-Mess-With-Momma-on-the-Train role.

A few stops later, the man gets off the train. Another couple of stops beyond that, and the boys get off the train and walk past the open door close to where we have been sitting. We move to the other end, where they had just been, in case they have any bright ideas about confronting us.

As the train resumes its travel, a woman seated nearby the entire time thanks Bridgett for her courage, observing that her actions were a great example for all of us. They also shared thankfulness to God for His protection over everyone.

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