No Harm Done

Friday, July 07, 2006

I’m going to give you a scenario, and I want you to be ready to tell me what the first thing was that popped into your head. Ready?

You’re at a playground on a play date with several other moms and children. One of your children runs over to you and says excitedly, “Mommy! We found a blanket over there under the bushes!!”

Now, what’s your first thought? Have you got it? Hang onto that. I’ll come back to it.

I wanted to set you up with that scenario because it speaks directly to conversations I seemed to keep having with people.

Three months ago, my friend Mrs. G. and I went out to coffee. We are both transplants in this fair city; she is from Pittsburgh and I am from Boise.

Anyway, we both commented on how, while this area is much smaller in population, we felt safer in the larger cities in which we grew up. (Okay, Boise is not as big as Pittsburgh, but it’s still pretty big: pop. 300,000-400,000, depending on how many suburbs you count.) Why did the larger cities feel safer? Is this area really so dangerous? Are our home cities really more safe? Or was it just that we felt safer in them because we’d grown up there and they were more familiar?

On the way home from that “coffee tawk” I ran by the library to pick up some books. Driving around the parking lot were FOUR (!) police cars. Inside the library I spotted two more policemen. Not wanting to appear too nosy, I tried to casually ask a librarian what was going on, hoping I didn’t come across like some sort of library rubbernecker. She had no idea why they all were there and didn’t seem to think anything of it.

Since that evening, I’ve learned that there is always a visible police presence at our library. At least two officers are there during business hours. The boys and I even once saw a man being arrested at the library. He sat meekly in the back of the police car while two officers, in no apparent hurry, leaned against the trunk and completed his paperwork. This seemed to strike no one as odd or unusual. Maybe it’s just me??

Last month a man
M. works with was entering a pancake restaurant with some friends. On their way up the walk, they found themselves in the middle of a gang fight. (“Dude! There’s a rumble at the IHOP!”) Unable to move either forward into the restaurant or backward towards their car, they stood there, hopefully out of the way of the flashing fists and knives, and called the police and waited for them to arrive. Fifteen minutes, one gunshot, and more than likely a soiled pair of pants later the police finally came to break things up. (There’s a donut joke in here somewhere, I can sense it. Perhaps after another cup of coffee or two I’ll be able to articulate it.)

Anyway, on our recent vacation I discussed these events with friends and family who, seemed to think I was overreacting to the criminal climate in which we live. And, after several conversations and “Oh, I’m sure it’s not that bad” – type comments, I started to believe them. I came home from vacation with a firm resolve to change my attitude of our new hometown. I would look at my town with fresh and optimistic eyes.

Until that day at the park.

When a friend’s daughter came running to her excitedly shouting about a blanket she’d found under the bushes. My first thought was probably much like yours: “Do NOT touch it! It’s probably filthy!”

The girl’s mother turned to me before responding to her daughter, and in a whisper pled, “Oh, please don’t let there be a body under that blanket!”

That was her first thought. A body. Under a blanket. In the park. A likely enough possibility that it was her first reaction.

Typing this entry really made me think about the climate we live in and assume is normal. My mom has told me that when she was young(er), birth announcements in the newspapers included the addresses of the new parents. Nowadays that’s unthinkable! We used to leave the front door unlocked during the daytime and our windows open at night. I remember walking nearly a mile daily to and from school when I was 8. Or spending summers running around the neighborhood unsupervised; just checking in from time to time. At school, the big safety concerns our teachers impressed upon us were looking both ways before crossing the street and not taking candy from strangers.

Our world seems to have gotten scarier and more threatening in such a short period of time. It’s happened so slowly, that it seems as if it’s always been this way.

I’ll tell you what, though: After thinking about all the things they must have to deal with, I’m sure going to be a lot nicer to those policemen at the library!


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