Nostalgia for More Trusting Times

Three days before the horror in Newtown, I was watching the warm-hearted Christmas perennial, Miracle on 34th St.  It’s been a few years since I’ve seen this familiar film, a few more years distant from its trusting time.  Fred Gailey is a dashing single lawyer living across the hall from single mom, Doris and her precocious six-year old, Susan. In a ploy to get to know the mother, Fred babysits Susan. They watch the Santa parade, alone, from his apartment. Doris’ s housekeeper, we hope, is keeping a tab on things through an open door, but I don’t know anyone today who would let a child be alone with a strange man, no matter how handsome and successful. Our sensibilities have changed about the threats to children and their safety.

Are more bad things happening to children now than 65 years ago, or are we just better at finding out about it?  That is an empirical question I wish some social scientist would answer. In 1927, a deranged school board treasurer blew up a school in Bath, Michigan, killing 38 elementary students, 4 adults (including the superintendent of schools) and himself. 58 people were injured. The treasurer had killed his tubercular wife earlier in the day.

The Catholic church scandal, Jerry Sandusky at Penn State, the scourge of drugs made available to kids by adults, countless abductions, and now a young man shooting kindergarten children multiple times in their classroom.

While we mourn the dead, the survivors of Newtown and other predations call on our sympathy, too. They will carry a lot of harm inside themselves forever. Even minor incidents can have a lasting impact on children. About 15 years ago or so, a man was sneaking into the girls bathrooms of schools in Oakville, Ontario, peering over stalls.  My daughter says to this day she looks to see no one is watching her.

If only there were something profound to say, something that would help us all put off the feeling we have in our gut that our world has grown more dangerous for children and that the last bit of human integrity, our duty that each of us should share to a person to protect the weak and the innocent, has cracked and fallen from us. Dec. 21 won’t bring the end of the world, but for many the world we knew has already ended. We are more than heartbroken. We are despairing.

There will be Timberlane budget post this week.  Stay tuned.


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