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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Next Time, I'll Slow Down Sooner

Over the past four+ years, my mile walk to the downtown coffee shop has helped me get clear, frequently supplied inspiration, and even given me a few opportunities for pleasant interactions; I look forward to these walks. As often as I've made this trip, a cynic or pessimist might say my experience today was overdue. Though that may be so, it made it no less disturbing for me.

Aside from a 100 yard stretch from my home to the end of the street, and about the same distance once downtown to the coffee shop, the entire route I routinely walk is on one street. Soon after getting on that street today heading home, I noticed two adolescent girls leisurely walking about 30 yards in front of me. Because my pace at first was slightly quicker, I was slowly gaining on them; I noticed one as she turned around to look my direction. I thought nothing of it and about a minute or two later the other did the same. And I would likely have not given that a second thought either until they broke into a run and put more distance between us. I immediately slowed my pace and began keeping my head down. Then it got sadder.

Although more than 50 yards now separated the three of us and I was moving slower and had already considered changing my route to an adjacent street so I would not continue to remain behind them, at one point I looked up and saw at least one of them look in my direction again before they began running a second time. At the first place where that street takes a slight bend (about 75% of the way to my home), with them out of my sight, me out of theirs, I stopped in my tracks and let several minutes pass. When I resumed walking the girls were nowhere to be seen. I was relieved and disturbed in equal measure.

In the hours since, I've tried to distract myself, including trying to blog about something lighter. But my mind remains fixed on the image of those girls running. Am I over-reacting? I'm as unsure about that as I am sure of this - next time, I'll slow down sooner.      

2 comments:

  1. I just received this today. I wish it had come sooner so I could have been able to respond in a more timely manner. I can feel your distress and sadness at this situation, and it is my hope that my words of understanding can offer some comfort. I will try to keep this brief, but having worked for years with young men in the juvenile detention system, your story brought so much to the surface.

    First and foremost, I would like to say what I think you already know. The reaction of the girls was not a reflection on you, but a reflection of our culture. You are a kind person, and it could have been any man in your shoes that would elicit such a response in a girl or woman in this situation. I often wonder who has the more difficult path once fear of our fellow man is the default. Men are portrait and perceived as a threat...that must be a difficult position in which to live. I've a friend who is a Real Estate Agent in Morris County. During an open house, he met the grandchildren of his client who was selling the house. The grandchildren were from the town where my family lives, and happened to know my children. I asked him what their last name was, and his reply summed up the deficit in our culture: "I already was asking them too many questions for a 50 year old man to ask before I cause red flags to go up." How sad is that? We have created a society where men are in danger of being perceived as a deviant for making conversation or walking home from the coffee shop!

    I am not sure what the answer is, since as a mom, I also must caution my children about strangers, male or female. I think the best we can do, as adults, is try to operate under the default that most people are good and trying to do the right thing. My children will often reprimand me for talking to strangers while we are out and about. When this happens, (and if often does since our parade seems to attract attention :), we have an open discussion about why the interaction was safe or not, and what would look different if it had been one of those times when we needed to exercise caution.

    I want to conclude by reiterating that you are a kind, caring man! Thank you for that! I told the same thing to my 50 year old Real Estate Agent friend. Please keep modeling that "Real Man" character. Our children, and our society, need to see it, feel it and absorb it!
    d.

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    1. d; Your words do offer comfort and I thank you for that. As you said, I did not take it personally although that did not obviate how much it shook me up at the time. On the bright side, I have both your comment and a phone call from my 25 year old daughter, who sensed my distress when she read the post and called to console her Father.

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