Age of lost Innocence

Go in thy native innocence, rely
On what thou hast of virtue, summon all,
For God towards thee hath done his part, do thine.

JOHN MILTON, Paradise Lost

(photograph: statues in park — Chicago, Illinois / Julie Cook /2013)

Isn’t this a great image—life among the lifeless. There is a small park in downtown Chicago, along Michigan Ave, that has life size sculptures of human forms cast in bronze and aluminum positioned throughout the park in very life like poses–some are sitting on the benches, some kneeling on the grass, some standing with faces looking upward as if gazing heavenward. The sculptures are either silver or a brownish bronze color–basically unisex, without definitive facial features.

Visitors to the park naturally want to interact with the statues. Children climb on them, people (aka tourists) pose with them, pigeons and seagulls desecrate them, and many people just exist among them–namely the current homeless individuals who are seeking refuge on one of the park’s many benches. I found them both inviting and, well, “put-offish”—meaning I didn’t feel like running up to them and interacting but I was, however, drawn to them by curiosity.

Today at home the front doorbell rang. This always sends me in a heightened state of alarm as we live out a bit, in a more rural section of our community, with our house situated a good bit off the road. Anyone coming to our house is most likely someone I know. When the front doorbell rings, that usually means a “stranger.” Today, however, I was expecting the AT&T guy coming to upgrade our modem as we are technological dinosaurs. It was high time we move forward a bit more into this new century.

When I went to the door, I saw two young men, sans any sort of uniform or identifying clothing, standing on my front walk–arms full of papers and an iPad. “AT&T?” I ask a bit concerned. The one young man closest to me asks in an unmistakable “slavic-esque” accent–“Oh you want cell phone?” all with a sweet smile. “No” I flatly answer even more confused. The young man immediately introduces himself and his friend and hands me a bunch of paperwork, legal documents, all as he’s telling me that they are students from Europe.

The paperwork includes what I assume is documentation from our local police and sheriff’s office approving them to be “peddling” whatever it is that they are about to attempt peddling in my direction. I ask where it is that they are from as I recognize the accent as eastern Eropean—wondering if it is not Russian as I have taught numerous Russian kids. “We are from Estonia” he tells me.

The young man closest to me then begins asking if I have children and that they are…immediately I cut him off as I know that they are trying to sell educational information for young children. I politely explain that I am a retired educator with a grown son.
“No, you cannot be retired, you look so young, what is your secret?”
“Good genes I suppose”
“Oh I will never be so fortunate”
I ask him how old he is and he responds
“Well, see you don’t look 25….”
…and then I think that at 25, you don’t want to be told that you look younger than you are, so I just stop.

He kept fumbling with the papers, notebooks and the iPad, which had Google maps pulled up to a map of my street, house, etc. I tell them that there are subdivisions scattered about that may have parents interested in the books but that I was not interested. He turns the iPad in my directions asking me about my neighbors pointing at house after house on the screen. All of this is a bit disconcerting as he just keeps on pointing to house after house on the iPad inquiring about potential buyers—all while I try as politely but firmly as possible to send them on their way.

All the while all sorts of bad scenarios are running through my mind..with the main concern being that these guys are not legit–perhaps simply working under the assumption of being educational book salesmen all the while with some sort of sinister underlying plan taking place. Maybe my husband comes home this evening to find that I have “vanished without a trace”….

I hate being suspicious and I hate feeling creeped out by two nice looking young men, the same age as my son, who are here in this country from Estonia, for God knows what, “working a summer job” peddling books. I want to think that what they told me was the truth–I want to believe people. However given the time in which we live, with the local, as well as national, News reminding us daily that we live with bad people who are often deranged or simply intent on harming others— yesterday morning I was less than at ease standing at my front door.

When I was young, I went door to door selling my Girl Scout cookies. I dressed up on Halloween and went door to door ringing bells in search of treats vs tricks. I rode my bike to the local mall to “hang out” with my friends who also had ridden their bikes to the mall. Did I let my young son do any of the things that I did when he was little? No! When he was a cub scout, he sold his popcorn to my fellow colleagues at school, going from classroom to classroom after school vs door to door of “strangers”. He rode his bike up and down our driveway only. He “trick or treated” only to the houses of his grandparents and cousins.

Life is not as simple as it once was. We live in a day of suspicion and of constant danger–or so it seems. Look at Ohio and the three girls held hostage for so long that they are now grown woman–all happening under the watchful eyes of an unassuming neighborhood. The cases of Elizabeth Smart and Casey Dugard—and the latest story of Hannah Anderson…not to mention the hundreds of missing children who are going “missing” each and every day that simply don’t make the headlines.

Vigilance is the key word when traveling, most usually abroad as American tourists must be ever mindful of where they are at all times, but sadly, that same vigilance is now necessary in our own front yards.

When the boys got back into their car and drove up my driveway, I pulled the door shut, locking it, hoping the AT&T man would hurry up……..