Not long ago I awoke in the morning to find that we had left the garage door open all night long and forgotten to lock the door into the house as well. I flew into a state of panic considering what might have happened to us had we not been very lucky, and I began to think about my experiences as a child. Back then our windows were wide open all summer long, all night long. We didn’t own an air conditioner, so we relied on the breeze from our attic fan to keep us relatively cool. It never occurred to us to be frightened that someone might enter our home quite easily, but it would have required little effort to pop out the screen and climb right inside. In fact, we had done just that a few times when we didn’t want our mom to know that we had been out and about a bit too late. She no doubt wasn’t fooled by our antics, but we thought ourselves quite adventurous. At no time did we imagine that someone with criminal intent might one day use the same route as ours to invade our home. We always felt quite safe whether we should have or not, and nothing ever happened to change our beliefs.
During the day we kept the doors to our home ajar as well. Friends and neighbors came and went with little more than a quick knock and a shouted “hello” to warn us that they were incoming. It was as though we were just one great big happy family in our community with nary a thought of home invasions or such. Perhaps we were naive, or maybe it really was as secure as we assumed.
The funny thing is that my mother was quite relaxed inside our little haven, but she was quite guarded whenever we were traveling through the city, especially at night. She was distrustful of strangers and instructed us over and over again in the necessity of avoiding any kind of contact with people that we did not know. She freaked out royally when I once accepted a ride from a man that I only minimally new. She raised such a ruckus that I found myself almost running if a stranger even looked my way. I suppose that I was more afraid of her anger than I was of someone that I did not know. Luckily it was quite rare for unknown persons to come our way.
I watched our little world change over time. My brothers and I moved away from home and my mom purchased a new house in a different neighborhood where she never felt quite as relaxed as she had in the home where I had grown up. She put chains and extra bolts on the doors and screwed her windows permanently shut. She installed peepholes and kept her blinds and drapes tightly shut. There was little wonder for her caution for not only was she living alone, but she had also been burglarized multiple times by then. Fortunately the robbers only came when she was not home, but her fears grew nonetheless, as did my own.
I was living in a very nice apartment project where I had many good friends when i learned that one of them had been raped upon returning from the laundry room one day. A man had followed her back into her place and threatened her with a knife. She silently submitted to his demands because she had a sleeping child in another room, and she feared what might happen if the baby awakened. I recall the horror that all of us felt along with the unadulterated fear. My husband often worked an evening shift during that time and I grew more and more uncomfortable living in that place. I was somewhat relieved when we finally moved, but my sense of complacency was forever gone. Never again would I be lax in protecting myself, even when I lived in a neighborhood where I knew everyone and felt quite secure.
As a society we have become very afraid, sadly often with good reason. Virtually everyone that I know has been the victim of some kind of crime, from the somewhat trivial to horrific incidents. One of my husband’s uncles was bound and gagged in his home while thieves ransacked his belongings. But for the grace of God they chose to keep him alive. The worst of the terrifying situations were the murders of two of my former students in unrelated incidents.
Our streets and our homes have seemingly become unsafe, and so we install cameras and alarm systems in addition to heavy metal doors and locks, even when we have few possessions that would be of much worth to home invaders. The idea of sleeping with the windows open is unimaginable.
I sometimes wonder if those who speak of “making America great again” are thinking less about issues of equality and more about a time when crimes against strangers were unusual rather than as frequent as they now appear to be. Given the ages of the supporters of the MAGA idea I suspect that they remember an era when everyone felt incredibly safe without walls or locks or loaded guns. Maybe they actually believe that given the right circumstances we might once again return to less fright filled lifestyles. My guess is that they long for the serenity that once felt so commonplace.
The saying goes that you can’t go home again. I suppose that we are long past the days of openness to the extent that we enjoyed fifty or sixty years ago. We have to adapt to the new ways, but we needn’t become overly afraid either. The fact is that in spite of rising crime rates and the need to exercise caution, we mostly enjoy our lives without incident. The reason that hearing of terrible events is so shocking is because they are still mostly rare. We don’t have to lock ourselves away as long as we have a bit of common sense, which includes checking doors and such before going to sleep. We don’t need to be so lax as to leave ourselves wide open for trouble like my husband and I accidentally did, but we don’t have to be constantly worrying either because given the odds most of us will blessedly never encounter trouble.
I’d truly enjoy having the same peace of mind that I experienced as a child, but in reality it came mostly because I was too innocent to even imagine that I would be touched by violence. Bad people were out there even back in the day, but I paid little attention to them chiefly because my mom sheltered me from such things. We had a neighbor who was murdered by her husband, and my sweet mother explained that the man had just been very sick and we did not need to worry. Our response was to avoid walking near the house where the crime had occurred, but otherwise having little concern that something similar might one day happen to any of us. Our innocence was in actuality not that far off of the mark, and we would be wise to carry on with our lives without overthinking our possibilities of being harmed.
Humans have worried about boogeymen under the bed for centuries. Sometimes they are real, but mostly we are just as safe as we have ever been as long as we take care not to place ourselves in harms way.