When I was in grade school, I was a "paper girl." My job was to deliver the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram to customers from West Main to Sligo Road. Every morning I would bundle up, my paper bag slung across my shoulders, and make my way around town on bike or foot. It was a solitary pursuit, and one I made the best of. I would sing to myself, and make up stories in my head. I would greet the rising sun, and observe the changing of the seasons.
I would watch the world--my world--wake up.
Several decades later, I am still watching the world wake up. I am still bundling up and making my way around town (the same town), singing to myself and making up stories in my head. I am still greeting the rising sun, and observing the changing of the seasons.
And this is still, largely, a solitary pursuit.
In part because the paper girls have disappeared.
The world is a different place now. We no longer allow children to deliver newspapers by themselves in the darkness before dawn. We're leary, even, of allowing children to walk or ride their bikes by themselves in the light of day.
My parents let me start riding my bike to the Rowe School by myself when I was in second grade--down Main Street, no less. What a joy it was to propel myself to school independently, feeling the gritty sidewalks beneath my wheels. What freedom I had.
A freedom that is virtually unheard of now.
Where did that freedom go? It has been subsumed by fear. The world has become a scary place. Or, at least, so we've been told.
It is very true that particularly scary things have been happening in the last decade or so: the recent Arizona shootings, 9/11, Columbine, the Oklahoma City bombing. People are doing horribly wrong, hurtful things to other human beings.
Of course, people have been doing horribly wrong, hurtful things to other human beings for generations. Both in our part of the world, and others. But now, given the immediacy of news delivery, it is undeniable. We hear about everything. As it is happening.
We've translated this knowledge into a great fear. HUGE. And, sadly, our fear has caused us to retreat into hiding, both literally and figuratively. Many of us don't actually live in the present anymore. We live in the PRE-FUTURE. We assume that bad things are going to happen tomorrow, and we act accordingly. We entomb ourselves in our houses; our cars; our gated communities. Worse still, we entomb our children. No more watching the world wake up. No more joyful, independent second-grade bike rides.
In no way am I suggesting that we engage in reckless behavior. We need not throw caution to the wind and put ourselves, or our children, at risk. It is true that some things should be feared. They are likely and have negative consequences. These are things to be avoided, if at all possible.
But we can't avoid EVERY potential danger ALL of the time. Bad things happen--often randomly--despite our best efforts. They happen even when we are 'safely' entombed in our houses; our cars; our gated communities.
What I am suggesting is that we don't allow fear to rob us of our freedom.
What I am suggesting is that we find a way for our children to ride their bikes to school, down the streets of the towns in which we live.
What I am suggesting is that we find a way for our children to watch the world wake up.
Let's bring back the paper girls.
Wolfe Neck, January 2011