Spring made an early cameo appearance in Santa Rosa today. It was sunny, warm and a bit breezy. It did not rain. This morning at ten, I headed out the door to exercise my legs and my lungs.
On my daily walk to the post office, I pass by an elementary school. I usually go at a time when all the children are inside, but the kindergarten yard is next to the sidewalk. Ordinarily the children ignore me as I walk by, but on rare occasions one of them will say hello. I always say hello back and keep walking. I do nothing that might make someone think I might be a schoolyard stalker.
This is sad, but I understand why small children are told not to talk to strangers. I've been a teacher's aide and a student teacher, but that was in the seventies, before there were so many rules about who can give whom a hug or a pat on the shoulder.
Physical contact, however innocent, is mostly forbidden these days, and there are some children who need a gentle, unthreatening touch once in a while. All human beings need it, especially children, but in these times the risks apparently outweigh the benefits, and that's a shame. It deprives them of something that could make childhood better and growing up easier.
I sometimes wonder if we don't lose more than we gain by instilling this fear. The distant and disaffected young people who shoot up their schools and themselves when they get a little older could very well be a result of this kind of benign but deliberate neglect. You just have to hope parents and other family members are giving these kids what they need. Obviously that isn't always the case. Sometimes the most dangerous place for a child is in her own home, where there is no one to protect her.
On the same block as the school is an abandoned liquor store. This was once a neighborhood grocery, where children were welcomed and looked after by a friendly shopkeeper known to all. But times have changed for family businesses as well. Since the original owners left, the store has changed hands regularly and sold fewer and fewer groceries and more and more alcohol and cigarettes. It's been closed for several months now and has become an eyesore, but I suppose it poses less of a danger this way. Less traffic, fewer unsavory types hanging around, not as much trash and debris.
The street where I walk was once a residential neighborhood on the fringe of town. As the city has grown up around it, this area has evolved into a complex of doctors' offices and medical labs. But there are still many houses and a couple of churches along the seven or eight blocks that I travel up and down once a day. It has inevitably lost some of the sense of community it had years ago when I moved here, as offices have replaced homes and vehicle traffic has increased. But it hasn't lost everything. People are still mostly comfortable living around here and walking on the streets. That's saying a lot, when the evening news is peppered with tales of evil doings.
If you can watch the violence, random and otherwise, that's on the TV screen every night, and not allow it to force you to keep your family behind locked doors and barred windows all day, you're probably living in as nice a neighborhood as you'll find. When I move I won't be looking for a setting that's much different from this one. The absence of fear might be a poor substitute for closeness and cooperative spirit, but in these times it could be the best we can hope for.