students show we are living scared

I was recently talking with a couple of students, both well-mannered and bright young ladies, when, for some reason, I mentioned an old song. Little Peggy March sang “I Will Follow Him” in 1963. I was too young then to be listening to pop radio, but I know the song well from listening to oldies stations.

The girls were not familiar with the song. One of them thought it was “Be My Yoko Ono,” written and performed by the Barenaked Ladies for the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.” That tune includes the lyrics, “You can follow me, wherever I go.” Usually that is the kind of cultural reference that makes me feel like I’m 102, but I happen to be a big fan of the show.

The other teen said, quite seriously, “It sounds like a stalker.” That comment gave me pause. When I was her age, I didn’t know what a stalker was. Now, it’s an all-too-common experience to be “Googled” by not only potential dates, but anyone who hopes to get some dirt on you.

The National Security Agency knows who you know and who you may want to find some dirt on. That’s nearly as scary as the thought that middle-aged perverts are regularly making contact, through the Internet, with young people — while posing as their contemporaries.

This is the way we live now, and I don’t like it.

I may have been born in the age of innocence, but things changed quickly once the 1960s arrived. The baby boomer generation lurched from tragedy to tragedy, with three assassinations of national figures marking our youthful years. I was a young teen when members of Charles Manson’s tribe of nutcases senselessly butchered seven people in southern California.

A few years later, my family was traveling via motor home in that state when socialite Patty Hearst was at large with the guerrilla group that had kidnapped her. I remember wondering if we would run into them robbing a bank. Would I have time to hit the floor?

It was an idle thought, just as the violence of Watts, Kent State and Chicago was real, and yet far from my door. I was a news junkie from an early age, and would lie on the floor with the Boston Record-American spread out in front of me. Although the comics, horoscopes and Dear Abby were of particular interest, I was also fascinated by what was going on in the country.

Then I would go outside with my sister and we would ride our bicycles with the 20 or so other kids who lived in the neighborhood until it got dark. My parents were overprotective, but they never came out looking for us, or to check on us. None of us ever wandered off, or got run over, or even broke an arm. None of us were kidnapped. None of us were murdered.

My husband, Paul, says one of his favorite things to do as child was to cross his street (a busy two-lane highway) and climb a hill into the woods to read. Nowadays, I wouldn’t walk alone in the woods, even at my age, even in Maine, where most (but certainly not all) violence tends to happen between family members late in the day on a holiday when too much beer has flowed and there’s only one piece of pie left.

Paul was never assaulted, abducted or approached by a stranger.

I am grateful for the childhood I had, one in which I was protected and felt safe, and yet could spend hours in my own backyard without supervision and then walk to the corner store by myself to buy Fireballs and Squirrels. As an adult, I try to carry that feeling with me, but sometimes, the thought that danger is just outside my protective film of optimism overwhelms me.

It did a couple of weeks ago, when two teachers were killed within the same week, both allegedly by young teens, their students. As an educator, those incidents hit close to home, close to my heart. If children and the adults who care for them can’t be safe in school, where can they be safe?

It’s no wonder that the refrain of “I will follow him,” sounds ominous, even if it was sung to the pope by the melodious nuns of “Sister Act” in 1992, in the way the song was intended. The “He” of the lyrics is the almighty.

But this is the way we live now, and, too often, I am afraid.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]

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