I often remember the carefree innocence I had as a child, and like so many others do, I miss those days. Knowing what I now know, I realize those days are long gone. They are lost and buried forever under adult responsibilities, packed down by a keen sense of the dangers that lurk about, a sense that has been honed and bolstered by years of seeing the misfortunes of others. Knowing and fearing what could go wrong at any given moment casts a pall over day-to-day life. It’s a coat of lead that wears me down. I don’t know how to shed it or if that’s possible. What I wouldn’t give for the ability to once again walk around without a care in the world.
I got a taste of that today, vicariously, thanks to two young neighborhood girls who were completely unaware of their brief but bright appearance in my life. It was Friday afternoon, just before five o’clock when I happened to get up from my chair. I looked out our front window as I often do, and saw them walking west down the public sidewalk on the other side of our street. Around nine years old, they stood out. In this day of two-car families and school busses, I don’t often see young kids go walking by without an accompanying adult, at least not as frequently as I used to.
My ever-present vigilance for danger surfaced immediately, bringing out the need I carry to be a protector. I decided to keep watching them, but not so much to see them. It was more to keep watch over them. I didn’t want anything to happen to them on my watch. I scanned passing cars to see if any of the drivers were paying them undo attention. I couldn’t help notice how the two girls interacted with each other while they walked. I got the impression they were good friends.
One had dark hair and wore a backpack. The other had blonde hair and didn’t carry anything. As they made their way west, they seemed totally engrossed in their conversation with each other, right down to the hand gestures they used when they talked, saying whatever girls that age say to each other. Then, without warning, the blonde girl flipped forward into a hand-stand. She held it for several seconds while her friend watched, then got back on her feet.
That’s when the other girl took off her backpack, flipped onto her hands, and hand-walked upside down for fifteen feet or so while her friend watched her. When she got back on her feet, the blonde girl picked up the backpack and brought it to her friend so she could put it on and continue their journey. It was an act of consideration I enjoyed seeing.
When I could no longer see them from inside the house, I went out to the porch to continue my self-directed guard duty. They walked several short blocks away and popped out of sight for a few seconds. My job now over, I started to turn to go back in the house when I saw the blonde girl heading east, back toward me, now alone. I realized she had been walking her friend home. Her friend’s backpack told me she probably went to visit or do homework right after school and that she had been going home in time to eat dinner.
As she neared our house, she crossed to our side of the street, and I realized she is the daughter of a neighbor one short block over. As she passed by, she gave me a short wave and I said hello, then I watched until she made it to her driveway and turned to go to her house. I went back inside and thought about what I had just witnessed. Although I couldn’t hear their conversation, those two girls unwittingly let me peer into their world, a world I used to live in long ago. I caught myself smiling as they chatted their way down my street, and I found myself happy for them and what they are able to experience every day. I’m happy for me, too. It makes me feel good that kids can still have what those girls have in this world I’ve come to know too well, and that brings me a bit of hope that maybe, just maybe, things aren’t quite as bad as they seem.