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Barbarians at my door

Young boy faces down fear, automobiles, chicken soup

We just want to stay home and have our own get-togethers at our safe house. You can't trust anyone, anywhere ...

-- Holly Pitre

Las Vegas shooting survivor

I grew up in a small town. Our modest home had five rooms downstairs and two small bedrooms upstairs. On the first Friday night of every month, we ate catfish at the voluntary fire department fish fry; every Sunday, we went to church. I played Little League baseball (Rode the bench, truth be told.), was in the Boy Scouts and never even heard of bike helmets. And, yes, my parents never locked the front door.

There were glimpses of the real world. I remember we had Bible class at my public elementary school once a week, but a kid named Jimmy would be excused every time. There was no explanation. Another kid in class would stay seated for the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. "Jehovah Witness," one friend whispered, but I had no idea what that meant at the time.

It was in my eighth year during the fall in my idyllic small town that I would find myself locked in a potential life and death struggle one Monday afternoon.

It started when I awoke that morning gripped with a terrible cold. It was quickly determined by my mother that bed confinement in my upstairs bedroom was my sentence for the day. With my father off to work and my older brother and sister at school, it was just my mom and me at the house. With a chest full of Vicks VapoRub, I drifted off to sleep most of the morning then went downstairs for some home-made chicken soup that was dispensed by my mom for any ailment in our family. Feeling better, I went back upstairs and told my mom I was going to read in bed. She took the opportunity to make a grocery store run, yelling up the stairs she would be back in an hour. With that, I heard her shut the front door.

About five minutes later, I heard the front door open and close. Thinking my mom had forgotten something, I put my book down to listen. I heard unfamiliar heavy footsteps and the sound of drawers being open and closed. Getting out of bed, I went to the top of the stairs and yelled "Mom?" To my shock, there was no reply, but sudden eerie silence.

"Intruder!" my brain deduced. Providentially propped next to the bedroom door was my brand-new fiberglass bow I had just gotten for my birthday. Quickly, I nocked an arrow and yelled downstairs, "I've got a bow, and I'll shoot you if you come upstairs!" I heard the footsteps suddenly walk right up to the stairwell door, and the door knob turned slightly. Fear was exuding through every pore of my body. "I'm ready!" I yelled again, drawing the bowstring back. Then I heard the front door open and close rapidly -- silence now except the loud beating of my heart.

When my mother returned, I rushed downstairs to tell her of my heroic defense of our home, but instead of praise, she simply said, "Oh, that was just probably one of the neighbor kids looking for some change, now get back to bed." And that was that.

The sociobiology professor Richard Wright says, that as we go about our daily lives, we impart a narrative meaning to things. We decide whether something that has just happened was bad, good or just inconsequential. Underlying these narratives, Wright says, are elementary judgments about the goodness or badness of things and how we should respond or not respond to them. My mom decided no big deal, and the front door stayed unlocked for many years to come.

Fear of risking your life ultimately is a judgment issue each of us must face. I get that. But I leave you with one last observation: Last year more than 40,000 people died in traffic accidents, but most of us blithely get into our cars without issue. We've decided, that regardless of the evidence, cars are good. So, too, we will decide about outside concerts now.

Choose wisely, I think my mother did. But for the record, I did keep that bow by my bed for the next couple of months.

NAN Our Town on 10/12/2017

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