Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Hole of Hindsight


Torn from the headlines!


Seen on the pages of NextDoor!

It doesn’t sound as impressive, somehow. The truth is, I’m hijacking this story for my own purposes.

Someone stole our entire mailbox. Has anyone heard of this happening or know of recent mailbox thefts in the area? I really have never heard of this happening before. - - E.E., Worthington 

Image is a screenshot from NextDoor 

While it won’t make the nightly news, the mystery of a disappearing mailbox tugged at something in my memory. 

Oh, yes. That. The dreaded teenaged years in Stamford, Connecticut where there was absolutely nothing for teenagers to do but our Sunday night youth group at the Congregational Church. Yes, there were occasional school dances, plays, and concerts. But most of the time there was nothing. Especially if you were a teenager with limited resources.

It became a “craze” for a while for teenagers to go out and steal street signs under cover of darkness. You know, for fun. Sometimes the signs were taken home as trophies of their daring. Sometimes they were moved around town to different locations. Along with this fad came the sport of Mailbox Polo. It’s pretty much what it sounds like. While along a road, where mailboxes are located at the curb, one of the passengers wields a baseball bat and levels them.

Boom. You know, for fun.

I never actually participated in these activities although I will admit to driving around town the night before Easter one year with the intent of getting up to mischief. We never actually committed any. I think we may have talked ourselves out of it. Honestly, Stamford was such a boring town that sometimes there wasn’t even any mischief to get up to.

I still feel faintly guilty about that night, even though we didn’t do anything.

Back to Worthington and our friends at NextDoor. I don’t know why that mailbox was stolen. Perhaps it wasn’t a teenaged prank. I’m having a hard time imagining what else it could be, though. 

I needed a mailbox so badly and I couldn’t afford one. So I stole it.

I disliked my neighbor so much I took my revenge by stealing their mailbox.

Perhaps it’s my guilty conscience speaking, but the thought of adolescents - - full of the nonsensical urges to do something reckless - - seems the most likely.

One of the thrills of being a teenager is those moments when you are sure you know absolutely everything. Adolescent brains are wired for both pleasure-seeking and risk taking. Those giddy thrills are exactly what parents fear. They are what lead to those unpleasant moments of reckoning when that same teen is faced with the knowledge that perhaps they did not know everything. And the parent, gobsmacked by the stupidity of it all, saying those time-worn words:

What were you thinking?

For those of us who are white, those experiences become part of our coming-of-age narratives, stories we look back on and smile, or wince. Not so for Black teens who may be going through the same experiences.  So often they are judged as devious, destructive, even criminal. These are teens for whom a stop by the police could be life changing or even fatal.

My mind goes back to that spring evening where the bunch of us, maybe five or six, piled into a friend’s beat-up car that was always on the verge of breaking down and drove around with mischief on our minds. We were all, for the most part, good kids. We came from middle to upper middle class families. 

More significantly, we were white. 

We talked about what we would say if the police pulled us over. We joked about it, although in retrospect it’s clear we were worried about it. What was the likelihood of our being pulled over for just looking suspicious? Six relatively respectable-looking white kids?

We really had no idea. 

Did the issue of race come up in the discussion on NextDoor? No. The issue came up for me because I see on social media how frequently those assumptions are made. And I see the disparities in treatment between white teens and Black teens in our community and around the country. 

Who gets to learn and grow from their mistakes? Who doesn’t? If you find yourself judging teen behavior or attitudes, I wonder how you would react of it were your own child or someone in your family. Would it be different? Would you be inclined the give them the benefit of the doubt?

I never thought I’d write a blog post about what is, essentially, a hole in the ground. But you’d be amazed at how much you can find in a hole that size. Memory, for example. Perspective. And some powerfully strong hindsight.

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