You don’t believe that, do you? Seriously, how many of you think of the world as safe? Safe for you? Safe for your kids?
It’s difficult, when all we hear about are wars and rumors of war. Of kidnappings and murders and heinous crimes and behavior of all sorts.
We respond by trying to safeguard ourselves against all these perceived threats (which we believe are real and lurking just outside our door). To do so, we have an insane amount of rules. We arm ourselves with all manner of devices with which to communicate – phones, email, smartphones, gps – so that we are never out of reach should the unthinkable (or the very thinkable, since that is why we have all those gadgets) occur.
We criticize parents who believe their children are not always in imminent danger. We call them idiots. We blame parents when anything DOES happen to a child, as though their parenting was lax, and we show shockingly little empathy. We make kids check in every five minutes. We give them phones and sometimes we activate the GPS on said phone so that we can locate them anytime we feel like it. We require a text whenever they leave somewhere, arrive somewhere and preferably also while they are en route. Or we don’t let them go alone at all. We monitor their presence online to make sure they aren’t doing anything “dangerous”. If an older child living away from home doesn’t call every day or text or answer email, we raise the alarm bells.
We do this despite the fact that the world is safe and most of the people in it are helpful and kind. Reading the Family On Bikes blog is a constant reminder of this fact, but I have a reminder of my own. And it took place 20 years ago, when the world was not as safe as it is today.
In 1992 just before my 25th birthday, I bought a used 1989 Ford Escort for around $2500, from a guy in Valley Stream NY. It had no CD player, just an AM/FM radio, and no air-conditioning. For about 6 months, I worked as many weekends and as much overtime as possible at my job in order to save money for the adventure I was planning. I bought a tent. Eventually I informed my boss of my plans and took a leave of absence from my job. (I told him it was either that or I was quitting – he granted me the leave.)
And then I spent almost 4 months on the road. Alone. With no cell phone. No laptop or email. No GPS. My basic formula was that I would drive every day until I felt like stopping. Then I would locate a campground, pitch my tent and explore the area until I felt like driving again. I drove Highway 2 from Michigan to Washington State. It runs about 15 miles south of the Canadian border for much of that distance. I took Highway 1 down the Pacific Coast and drove U.S. 50, “the loneliest road in America” across the Nevadan desert. In Idaho I camped alongside tents that held men working on the oil pipelines. In Arizona I camped the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and in Utah I hiked the trails of Zion, including the dizzying “Angels Landing”. I met lots of people. There was the group of Texans camping in Glacier National Park who invited me for a beer and told me the story of the black bear that had wandered through camp the night before I arrived. Someone yelled “Bear!” but as my new friends told me, “A lot of people in Texas name their dogs bear, so we didn’t think anything of it until we heard it sniffing around our tent!” A French woman also traveling alone became my hiking companion one day, a newly married couple who liked to sing as they walked joined me the next.
In Telluride a man serenaded the entire campground at midnight by playing a haunting rendition of “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes. In St. George Utah I was jolted awake by a sound that, in the predawn fog of my brain sounded like a rattlesnake but which turned out to be sprinklers set to automatically water the grass before the sun could rise and burn it up. Then there was the time my tent and everything in it (which didn’t include me) blew away in Havre, Montana. I had to retrieve it from a large puddle in the road and nothing was irrevocably damaged. I spent the 4th of July in Minot, North Dakota and a month or so later listened to the fighter pilots in their jets scream by overhead in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
In El Paso, Texas I walked across the bridge into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and made my way to the local market. (Ciudad Juarez may sound familiar because it is infamous for the murders that take place there – usually young women who are then dumped in the ravine between it and El Paso.) I walked back out again later that same day – no passport necessary either way.
Late in the trip, tired of the intense heat of New Mexico and Texas, I made an epic 18 hour drive from El Paso, Texas to just west of Little Rock, Arkansas,(Texas is HUGE, people. I was in Texas for over 14 of those 18 hours) sleeping in my car in a rest area before continuing the next morning to Fort Wayne Indiana and then finally joining my parents on their vacation in Cedarville, Michigan. They had no idea I was coming. My Mom had heard from my brother two days prior that I was in El Paso.
To be honest, I can’t remember how often I called home. It wasn’t often, because I clearly remember relishing the idea that no one could reach me. That I didn’t have to tell anyone where I was or where I was going unless I chose to. No status updates on Facebook, no email or blog posts. I wrote my adventures in a journal, for my eyes only.
People like to romanticize the past and talk about how great it was – how wholesome and safe.
Of course, that trip was great. No romanticizing necessary. But seen through the eyes of our current fear-driven society, it was also quite reckless. And actually compared to today, it WAS reckless. See, when I say the world is safer today than it was in 1992, I am not exaggerating. According to disastercenter.com (ominous name for a website, isn’t it?), in 1992 there were 23,760 murders in the United States. In 2010 (the last year for which statistics are available) there were 14,748. Rapes? In 1992: 109,060 In 2010: 84,767 Even accounting for statistical errors, that is a HUGE difference. 9000 fewer murders and a whopping 25,000 fewer rapes.
So a young woman traveling alone in 1992 was in far greater danger than she would be today. But you’d never know it by the way we act.
Here’s a tip. Don’t require quite so much communication when your kids are out on their own. That way if they are 5 minutes late checking in there’ll be nothing to worry about. Teach them what to do if they get lost or feel unsafe, and then trust them to do it. Cultivate confidence. People are, with few exceptions, kind and generous and good-willed. Turn off the news and the alarmist home page headlines and look around.
The world is a safe place.