GOF Moments: Could You Save Your Life?

My grandmother was sweeter than honey, as cheerful as a rainbow and trusting—arguably to a fault. In her later years, she watched every episode of Divorce Court in great anticipation. “How sad…” she’d respond to the verdict. “I wanted them both to win!” She never gave up hope, particularly in others. But even Grandma had her limits…

One day during a cheery walk near her home, a car pulled up beside her. As the window rolled down, Grandma smiled, assuming it was a nice man from a nearby retirement community she recognized.

“Hop in,” the driver said. “I’ll give you a ride.”

Grandma entered the car, closed the door, fastened her seatbelt then looked at the driver—a total stranger. After a silent ride, during which she scarcely breathed, the car reached a stop sign. Grandma didn’t hesitate; she opened the door and fled.

That story, though gratefully anticlimactic, has popped into my head over the years, inspiring wonder. What was my sweet grandmother thinking? What was he thinking? Did more than lack of familiarity prompt her to flee? What if she hadn’t fled, or if the man stopped her? In my favorite imagined scenario my Swedish, Hindi-speaking grandmother lures the man to an Indian restaurant and kung fu-flings him into a samosa fryer. (Hi-YA!) In a way, that’s what she did. Grandma’s actions told the driver she wouldn’t succumb to his desires, whatever they were. She had no need to look back and probably never assumed someone’s identity again.

The one time I sought more details, Grandma chuckled and offered me snacks. 😉 Alas, I’ve come to my own conclusions.

Trust wasn’t my grandmother’s detriment, but her strength. So she was a bit lax on the awareness factor. But once inside that car, she trusted her instincts and reacted. Her quick decision at the stop sign could very well have saved her life.

If you read my Life-Saving Resolutions series, you know how much I value awareness and intuition in regards to personal safety, much due to Gavin de Becker’s revolutionary book, The Gift of Fear. When I use my fear as a tool—rather than talk myself out of it—and react responsibly, I tell friends I had a “GOF moment.” I’m amazed at how many we all experience. We may never how much listening and responding to our instincts helps us, and that’s perfectly okay by me. 

One of many things I love about The Gift of Fear is its emphasis on people who overcame the odds, escaping their attackers to survive. Because I find such stories ultra-inspiring, I’ve decided to launch a new series featuring GOF fear moments. We can learn a lot from others’ experiences. Take, for example, these posts:

Stacy Green: Thriller Thursday: Personal Tragedy While this story doesn’t have a happy ending, it reminds us how important gut instincts are. When we feel creeped out, it’s for a reason.

Kourtney Heinz: The Cost of Distracted Driving No phone call or text is worth taking our minds and eyes off the road. The woman featured survived, but barely. And she and her family can use our help.

Natalie Hartford: He Watched His Grandmother Die: Words from a Survivor This heart-wrenching post gives a face and name to an issue that continues to run rampant, though most of us know the risks. Knowing without reacting is like not knowing at all.

Moi: In case you missed it, my post Lifesaving Resolution #4: Trusting Your Instincts, details the time I was followed home from photo shoot in NYC. Numerous readers shared GOF moments in the comments—insightful stuff!

What sticky situations have you managed to get out of? What “stop sign” inspired a turn for the better? Any GOF moments to share? I’m all eyes/ears. 😉

Leave a comment


  1. I got CHILLS reading your grandmother’s story. How easily the ending could have been so different and AMEN to her for listing and following her instincts! Sometimes, it’s not just paranoia. And to be honest, I’d always rather be safe (maybe looking a little like a fool) than sorry!
    As a teenager, my group of girlfriends and I took insane risks. We hitch hiked everywhere thinking we were invincible and immortal. You know how 14-year-old girls can be. And for the most part, people who picked us up were nice, honest, trusting and great people. But we did run into trouble twice that we narrowly escaped. And quite frankly, it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized just how lucky we were.
    One time, we got into a truck. 2 of us on the back (outside) and one on the inside. The truck would not stop when we requested. Thankfully at a stop sign we were all smart enough to jump out/off.
    Another time, same type of thing. Me and another friend got into a vehicle and got totally creeped out. We asked the driver to stop claiming our house was “right there” (when we really we had another 2-3 kilometres to go). They refused to stop, laughing and carrying on. It just so happened that a cop car came up behind us. They pulled over immediately and let us out. LUCK or God watching down on us. Either way, a narrow escape.
    I’ve definitely learned to trust my instincts and when my spidy sense tingle, I pay close attention!
    FAB series August – can’t wait to read more and THANK YOU for the amazing shout out and support. Mwauh!!! xoxoxox

    • Wow, Natalie. I’m so glad you and your friends weren’t hurt! It’s amazing how unconquerable we can feel, and how much it (usually/hopefully) shifts with a bit of maturity and life experience.

      Luck can go in both ways, which is one reason I think GOF should be taught in schools. I know of a few schools in L.A. that teach self defense—progression if you ask me. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and for the super support, doll!

  2. Very insightful post August. I have read your LR#4 as well as Kourtney’s Post. I had mentioned earlier too that Women are naturally gifted with an instinct to sense danger. During our Junior College year back home, we were on a hiking trip amidst jungles of central India. Only couple of weeks ago we were driving back home after a family dinner from a relative’s place, a car errantly cuts us, – not an uncommon scene on highway, however my wife asked me to slow down. I released the gas pedal & changed lane & in less than a minute the erratic driver took one car before hitting into the divider, another car following closely couldn’t stop in time & ran into the scuffle. That was a narrow escape.
    Hindi speaking GrandMa! There’s always something new to learn from your posts. In general as well as about you 🙂

    • Sounds like your wife has some great instincts and skills in place. Happy to hear that! Studies have shown that men are less encouraged to listen to that inner voice, so, though they, too, naturally have such skills, they deny them. (A generality, of course—I hope all you guys out there are exceptions! Police officers, FBI, guys who’ve been through frightening events, etc., tend to use their skills more so.)

      I can understand a bit of Hindi and Assamese since my mom grew up in India and my dad studied and speaks Hindi, but not near as much as I’d like. They used it most often to talk about us kids—ha!

  3. Geez! I am sure that I got myself out of a lot of crazy situations and then promptly forgot about them. I do remember after a date a guy ripped my shirt off. Buttons flew all over the room. I cracked up laughing at how dramatic it was and he left. My friends told me that he married a girl that looked a lot like me…whatever that means…

    All I know is that I diffused a situation and probably emasculated him by laughing! I really did think it was funny!

  4. I really need to put the GOF book on my TBR list. Once as a journalist, these men (about 7) came into the office wanting to speak with me. We didn’t have a room large enough, so we stepped outside. Turns out, the guy had been arrested for flashing a woman who was mowing her yard. He raised his voice at me, pointed out his wedding band, emphasized he was married and I needed to run a retraction. I explained it was news and if he was arrested for this again, he would again make the newspaper. Turns out, to my co-workers on the other side of the glass, it looked a little menacing. The police were called. They guy left, etc. The guy took the misdemeanor charge to trial. I was called to testify, because the guy and his buddies were viewed as making threats to people involved (in addition to me, they also stopped to see the victim). A male jury with a lone female acquitted the guy. Years later, the female juror told me she had issues with the testimony, but felt she had to go along with all the men to offer a not guilty verdict. I think of this case every time a person says they don’t want to file charges.

    • Sounds scenes from a movie, Stacy. Wow. I’m so glad you came out unscathed and with lessons learned. It’s easy to judge people for not speaking out against wrong-doers, but as you illustrated, there can be lots beneath the surface.

  5. I have the GOF book, and it’s next on my nonfiction TBR list. Sounds like it’s something we should all read.

    Your grandmother’s story is very chilling. Maybe the man’s motivations were completely innocent, but my pessimistic nature says otherwise. Her quick thinking definitely saved her, thank goodness.

    Thanks for linking to my post about my sister’s friend. That was a tough one to write, but many can learn from it, as you said.

    Fortunately, I don’t have a story to tell about my own personal safety. I’ve been very lucky, other than the car wreck I totally caused. What does stick out in my mind was the 4th of July when Grace was 2 1/2. This was after the big Cedar Rapids floods, so the celebration was in a large college parking lot – lots of room, lots of people. My husband went to get a hot dog, and Grace and I were in our spots. I turned my head for five seconds, and she was gone. GONE. I can’t describe the heart-stopping, choking fear that overtook me. I scanned the crowd, telling myself she had to be there. Half a minute later, I spotted her. She’d mosied over to a man with sparklers and was chatting him up. In the sea of all those people, my eyes simply couldn’t spot her.

    Easily the most awful 30 seconds of my life. Fear is an necessary evil, and it can definitely save lives. Great post as always, August!

    • I held my breath reading that, Stacy. Thank goodness for the positive outcome! I’m glad you don’t have more personal safety stories to tell. Chances are you’ve prevented some. 🙂

  6. When I was 20, I was staying in a hotel on a business trip and ordered a pizza. The pizza guy came up to the room (he was very cute) and asked if he could use the phone because they called to say they had a problem with the credit card machine and needed the number (or something to that effect).

    Not thinking I let him in. As I sat down on the bed across from where he was sitting, I realized that while he seemed totally non-threatening, I had made a moronic choice letting him in.

    So, as he dialed the pizza place, I told him, “Just to be clear, you are a strange man in my hotel room, so if you try anything, I will bludgeon you with this lamp.”

    He smiled and promised he would be on his way as soon as he got off the call.

    Fortunately, all I got out of the evening was a phone number and a free pizza. But I am happy to say I am much wiser in my “older” age. 🙂

    • Amber, I wish I could “like” your response. That’s just awesome.

    • So glad you shared this, Amber. I love your response to the guy once he was in! 🙂 Thank goodness all turned out well.

      Men and women are more likely to talk to and trust charming, attractive others. In some cases, though, “charm” is a red flag.

      • I always turn to humor when I am the slightest bit nervous/fearful. Someday, should we ever meet in person, I’ll tell you about how I made government agents laugh. 😉

  7. Open-heart surgery in ’09 was a serious stop sign (he said, by way of understatement). But it got me back to writing again, a gift that I had abandoned many years earlier. I think that’s turning a negative into a positive. 🙂

    • Talk about turning lemons into unlimited, gourmet lemon pie! (Health-promoting pie, of course. ;)) Many are blessed by your response to that stop sign.

  8. Kourtney Heintz

     /  May 3, 2012

    August, thank you so much for the shout out and for telling more people about Tonianne’s story. I know her family appreciates all the support and I’m really glad to be able to lend my blog to get the word out on the tragically high costs of distracted driving.

  9. Fabulous post. I wouldn’t expect anything else from you, August. I’ve had my gift of fear several times. It’s interesting to read others. The one that sticks out the most in my mind is when I was in grade school and walking home from school. A car pulled up and asked me to get in. I often wonder where that road would have led. I doubt it was anywhere good. I’ll have to go check out some of those sites you linked.

    • Wow, Debra. That is a “what if” I’d prefer not to think about! But one we can learn from. I’m so glad you had the wherewithal not to get into that car.

  10. I’m definitely going to have to check out that book! Sounds like one I need to read. Your post reminds me of a line from the movie The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo where the ‘bad guy’ says to Craig’s character something to the effect – we’re too polite to listen to our instincts. we’re too worried about what other people think, and we brush off that voice that tells you to run. Love that scene.

    • GOF is super eye-opening, Lisa. I’d love to hear what you think!

      That Dragon Tattoo bit is totally in line with this topic. Unlike animals, who act upon their instincts, we humans talk ourselves out of them.

  11. I just read the Gift of Fear a few weeks ago and it was SO amazing. I’ve always been one to be a bit over paranoid, but it was nice to hear my instincts validated. After reading it, I wanted to give the book to every woman I know.

    • There’s definitely a fine, but important, line between paranoid and aware. So glad you read and dug the book! It’s one of my favorite gifts to give. 🙂

  12. Karen McFarland

     /  May 3, 2012

    Never doubt a gut feeling. It’s there for a reason. It is also connected to our conscience. But we all have a choice as to whether we listen to it or not. 🙂

  13. I haven’t read the gift of Fear, but have always had a well-developed, some might say overdeveloped sense of safety and risk. It has stopped me from doing many things but I”m sure it’s saved me as well. thanks for the usual great post, August

    • I bet that’s one reason you’re a gifted writer and therapist, Louise!

      • August, you are the most positive person I’ve ever met. thank you so much. it’s from growing up in a crazy crazy family where vigilance often made a big difference to our safety. and developed from there. Hard times then but they served an excellent purpose in the present.

  14. Catherine Johnson

     /  May 3, 2012

    Wow lucky Gran was on her toes. I’ve probably done something similar before. I was definitely grateful for automatic door locks on apartment buildings in Paris chased by two young guys.

    • That sounds like a scene from a thriller, Catherine. It’s amazing how many close calls we all have. Glad you’ve stayed safe!

  15. prudencemacleod

     /  May 3, 2012

    Actually, there are too many stories to tell here, but I live by the GWYG rule. (Go with your GUT) IF instinct says flee, don’t hesitate, run!

  16. Sounds like an awesome series of GOF blogs is headed our way! Can’t wait.

    It’s always nice to read about things that other real people experience. Drives home the human factor for me. We’re not machines, we’re not animals; we’re humans with hopes and fears.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  17. Raani York

     /  May 3, 2012

    You know August, I love the idea of your grandmother kung-fu-flinging the Guy in an indian restaurant. *chuckle*

    I do remember actually one situation, years back… when I once decided I needed to go bungee jumping… It was quite in common back then and I felt like at least trying it once would be a good idea.
    I stood there in line wearing a red T-Shirt, on the bridge, watched how tiny the viewers looked like from this height…. looked like the ones before me screamed when jumping down… and I remember being surprised that from all people in this line only me and the Guy behind me were wearing red Shirts – and I normally just don’t wear that color…

    I remember as it was yesterday… when I got closer I all of a sudden felt the urgent need to pee.I didn’t feel like waiting, jumping down and wetting my pants. That would be the peak of all embarrassement. So I excused myself and told the Guy behind me to go ahead when I’m not back in line on time. He agreed and I ran those small stairs down to the restrooms…

    Just when I got out there I looked up and saw the Guy in the red shirt being prepared for his jump. I stayed with the viewers… saw him jump…
    He died that afternoon… the bungee rope had been broken…

    Now what are we calling this? Instinct? Was the fear reason for my sudden need to go to the restroom? My internist would probably just call it a full bladder…
    But until that day I would call it a “Legion of Guardian Angels working overtime”…
    I had never again felt the need to go Bungee Jumping and never regretted it…

    I just think sometimes… and agree with many others here… if there’s something in you screaming “DANGER” then run… run away, run the other way – or run to the bathroom. It might be healthier.

    • Oh, Raaini. I think my chills have chills. I’ve always believed that angels come in all kinds of forms—maybe even bladders? It’s always possible that part of our brain picks up on danger cues, triggering a physical and emotional response. Regardless, I’m so glad you’re okay! And what a tragedy for the man who leapt. I wonder if he had qualms pre-jump as well.

      • Raani York

         /  May 4, 2012

        We haven’t talked much while standing in line – he seemed to be more an introverted kind of Guy…
        When I think back of that day I realize there’s a lot I still know – but there’s one thing that will never leave me: the sense of me being thankful for “the warning” and the restroom being so far away…

  18. I’m trusting, but–so far–my instincts kicked in when something didn’t feel right.

    Years ago, when on vacation in Mexico, I waited alone in the elevator lobby at our hotel. A man approached and waited with me. The elevator came and he stood back, gesturing for me to enter. I wasn’t comfortable riding alone in the elevator with him, so I shook my head and walked back into the lobby until I could accompany a family upstairs.

    Would he have caused me harm? I don’t know. I do know his intention wasn’t a simple elevator ride, nor was his presence coincidental because he left the elevator lobby himself after I left.

    His goal had not been to take the elevator. His goal had been to take the elevator with me — alone. I’m going to add this book to my TBR list — it would also make a great gift for loved ones. Thanks, August!

    • Yipes. De Becker uses elevators as an example in his book. He says, essentially, that animals will run from what (or who) they fear, and humans will step into a closed metal box with someone who gives off serial killer vibes. Sounds like trusting your instincts really paid off. Thank goodness!

  19. Another great informative article Austin. I have always had a very strong intuition. I can read much about people from their pictures. I love the article you had written explaining the science of intuition. I have described my experience much the same way. It is bits and pieces of experience and sensory language conglomerating into an overall read on surroundings etc.

    Being a guy, I have rarely had to use my intuition as you speak of often for women. Unfortunately I have been misjudged for fear and caution which I understand, but it sucks to be that guy. Especially when I know myself to be a kind deep soul. The trickiest intuition has been for me to navigate accurately is in relationships. I loved the book “Blink” it is full of great insight on the subject.

    Thanks for putting together this level of reading for the taking on your blog. I am appreciative its overall value.

    • So happy to hear you enjoyed the post. Sorry to hear that you’ve been misjudged! Though most guys and gals aren’t harmful, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

      • Yes, agreed, better safe than sorry is best Austin — Always.

        I have rarely had to use my intuition to determine if someone was dangerous, but I have. More so how to defuse a dangerous situation from igniting or escalating.

        Using intuition more in internet interactions to determine the range of boundaries one needs to employ to any given user in a domain would be a good extension of this subject.

        Thanks again!

  20. Great story, August! Thank you for sharing!

  21. When I clicked on this post, I didn’t realize GOF stood for Gift of Fear. As I read your story about your grandmother’s weird experience, I thought, “This sounds like something out of Gift of Fear.” No point there, just funny (I thought).

    In situations where I should have been scared, I felt oddly calm and resolute, maybe a little annoyed. I’m talking about stuff like a drunk in a parking lot getting in my face; finding a strange, barking dog in my enclosed back yard; having a persistent door-to-door solicitor try to talk his way into my house. In all those situations, I reacted but I wasn’t scared. I said “eff you” to the jerks and barked at the dog (yes, really) and chased him out to the main road.

    There’s one experience that sticks out for me, though.

    I was in a crowded store–a Walmart–and I became aware of a man following me throughout the store. He didn’t speak to me or make eye contact with me. What he did do was creepier than that. He would come very near where I was looking at items and circle the area, never moving on until I did. I thought I was being paranoid until we hit the women’s clothing section. (Yes, I buy clothes at Walmart)

    When the man followed me into the women’s clothing, I decided I wasn’t imagining anything. I turned to the man and stared at him until he looked at me. I made eye contact and held it, not smiling or doing anything. The man turned and walked away from me. I kept an eye out for him, especially when I took my purchases to the parking lot, but I never saw him again that trip.

    Before I end this overly long comment, I’ll tell you one more thing. It’s a frightening story, but it’s not a GOF moment.

    About 25 years ago, my aunt was dating a man who lived in Alabama while she was living in Texas. On long weekends, she’d drive to Alabama to be with her boyfriend. This is an 8-hour drive. When my aunt got tired, she’d stop in rest areas and sleep in her car.

    During one of these all night drives, she stopped at a rest area in Podunk Nowhere and slept the rest of the night. When she woke at dawn, she was alone in the rest area. My aunt went in the bathroom. When she came back out, a car was parked next to hers, and a unknown man was standing in the space between the two cars.

    He said to my aunt, “What are you doing?”

    Before my aunt had a chance to answer, he reared back his fist and hit her and knocked her down.

    At that moment, a truck driver pulled into the rest area. From his high perch in the bitch truck, the truck driver had seen everything. He ran over to my aunt and her assailant, screaming and hollering. The assailant jumped in his car and drove away.

    Though this was twenty-five years ago, I still find it a scary story. If that truck driver hadn’t come along, no telling what would have happened to my aunt. I often stop at rest stops to use the restroom when I am traveling. I always stay alert and very aware of what could happen at these isolated and often lonely places.

    Great post, August. I really enjoyed it.

    • Wow, Catie. (I seem to over-using the w-word, but definitely worthy here!) It’s amazing how one seemingly trivial occurrence can change, or even save, our lives. Your aunt was lucky, indeed… And since the ordeal has stayed in your mind, it’s probably made you heightened your awareness and safety, too. Sharing it here could do the same for who-knows-how-many others. It’s a happy snowball that started with creepy dirt! Thanks so much for sharing.

      PS One of my favorite outfits came from Walmart. 😉

  22. I DID THAT. Guy stopped, opened the door and said, Hop in! and I did. Still can’t believe it. I was 13. We chatted, and he said nice things. When he put his hand you know where, I finally (duh) got the picture and hopped back out.

    Gift of Fear is a great book — very helpful and affirming. Gave it to my daughter when she was 13, although I can’t imagine her ever doing anything so stupid, I mean trusting, just in case …

    Thanks for the reviews and the great post.

    • Woah. That’s crazy! As in ironic. A relative of mine bore witness to that hand-going-you-know-where ordeal during a hitchhike years ago. So glad you hopped out—one perk of his, um…behavior. 😉

  23. Great post. I have had a few sticky situations to get out of in my life, but none were as frightening as an episode that happened with my oldest brother and my oldest son. It happened many years ago, but I can tell you right now, the three of us are alive today not because of any brilliant quick-thinking, but just dumb luck … or a higher power. I’m not talking about a car accident; I’m talking about putting yourself into a deadly situation and not even realizing it. And getting out of it only by the grace of God. Sorry to sound so melodramatic, but it’s true.

    All I can say is that I learned, as a young father, that life is far more precious than you can imagine and that it can be snuffed out in second. Sound judgment is something you learn from experience, and experience is often the result of bad judgment. And boy, did I learn.

    Maybe I should write a blog about it. Might be therapeutic. 🙂

  24. I read this the other day while waiting for something, probably The Kid to get out of school, and I meant to come back and comment ~ totally forgot. So here I am!

    First of all, wow that your grandmother got out of the car! I was so scared and worried for her, but apparently she can take care of herself. Second of all, I ordered this book. Not just for me, but my daughter, son, and husband to read. You’ve mentioned it a few times and I think it sounds like something everyone should read at least once. Fear has saved my life a few times, but also held me back from way too much. It’s time to harness that power for good. Thanks August for being so fabulous. 🙂

  25. When I was 19 years old, I was in a bad enough situation that I still become queasy and sick when I think of it (which isn’t often as I bury it) – I’ve not talked about it in years and only a handful of people know what happened. But I escaped and here I am alive. Like your grandmother, I did an incredibly stupid thing that led to something awful and dangerous. But it sure taught me a hard-learned lesson.

  26. This strange thing happened to me a few months ago (I think February): I recently moved last semester so I am new to the city, so I decided to go downtown to see how things were over there and such, but I accidentally got lost. Now, there is a tourist section designed specifically to be “friendly” if you want to use that word, so it is very safe, but this downtown part is far away from there and I walked for about half an hour before I actually knew where I was and began my way back.

    While I was walking on one of the streets, a (and I am perfectly honest here) man/woman or a woman/man comes out from one of the stores. I say that because I still don’t know if he was a man or a woman and I would have ignored it but he called by my brother and father’s name and I thought that perhaps he thought I was him and had confused me or something. It turns out it wasn’t the case and the guy begins doing all sorts of creepy things.

    First, his dog apparently “liked” me and started jumping all around me, then he asks me where I come from and when I am doing. I said that I was going to meet a friend (I wasn’t) and then he says to me that if I want I can use his room to have sex with her. Not only was that one of the strangest and most disgusting things I could imagine but the fact that he did it only a few minutes after knowing me, made me uneasy.

    I was not really scared but I didn’t want to be there. He then invites me to sit down and come inside and the place looked perfect so I enter and he could close the door. So I decided “No, not today” and pretty rudely told him that I was going away and began walking away. I had a feeling that he looked at me as I was walking away but he did not do anything and I have avoided coming close to that area for now.

    I don’t know if you have seen the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movie in which one of the characters says that people seem to be more afraid of being rude than of dying and I thought it was a pretty clever thing.

    Anyway, I’m glad your Grandma is okay and this is a very interesting post. I’m really glad I read it.

  1. Tall Tale Tuesday: Plant Some Ideas « Ellie Ann
  2. The Gift Of A Mother’s Intuition - Lisa Hall-Wilson | Lisa Hall-Wilson
  3. What do your shoes say about you? – Natalie Hartford
  4. Trust Your Gut Or You Might Get Screwed | Tameri Etherton

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: