I recently took a day trip to Block Island. After dropping a friend off at the marina for a sail back to Boston, I anxiously headed off by myself on my rented moped to explore the island. I soon came upon a popular lighthouse stop and pulled in to check it out. After exploring the lighthouse a bit, I ventured out to the large grassy space in back to take in the view and take some photos. Due to the slanted slope, it was hard to get a full view of the steep cliffs below so I decided to perch myself up onto a large rock in the center of the lawn. I watched a young girl of about 6 or 7 easily scrambled up the rock. There was plenty of space for another body up there, so I asked her about the best route to get up and she helpfully directed me. As I sat myself down, the young girl sat beside me and I mentioned to her that this was my first visit to the lighthouse. She started pointing out some points of interest to me. As I was feeling a bit lonely, I was thankful for her friendliness and happy to be in her company.
We were suddenly startled when behind us her mother screeched, “Get down right now! Do you know that woman? You’re practically sitting in her lap! Get down!” I looked at the woman to assure her it was OK but she gave me a stern dismissal as the little girl scrambled off the rock. She hung her head shamefully as her mother pulled her aside and continued reprimanding her. “I’m sure that woman is nice but I’ve told you many times before to NEVER talk to someone you don’t know.”
I was shaken by the woman’s reaction and upset for her daughter who was being so publically scolded for something that came so naturally from her pure, joyful soul. I felt sad for her and a little shamed myself. Was I wrong to have engaged with the child? Had she gotten into some trouble before with a stranger? Was the young mother scarred from a past experience of her own? How might the mother’s fear and actions impact her daughter's naturally gregarious personality as she matures?
Not being a mother myself, perhaps I don’t fully understand the fierce protective nature of a parent. I was a very shy child so my parents did not have to worry about me talking with strangers. I don’t think that was as much of a concern back then as it is today. Today it seems we live in such a fear driven society which can lead to a crippling sense of wellbeing if we let it. It can also become self-fullfilling if we’re not careful to temper it with common sense and faith in fellow human beings.
My introverted nature has softened as I’ve matured. I’m still not overly chatty but when I do feel compelled to engage with a stranger in my travels, I usually walk away from the exchange feeling more connected and lighter and sometimes wiser and more enlightened. We all need more of that in this world today.