Friday, July 11, 2008

Freedom should come with a dose of caution

Like a lot of kids, when I chose a college, I picked one far from home. In my case, it was the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
The early 1970s were a heady time to be a young woman in college. The women's movement assured us that we could have it all, be anything we wanted to be; there were no limitations. I bought into that philosophy without reservation.
Every few weeks, my grandmother would send a letter. There would be a short note reassuring me of her love (as if there had ever been any doubt), a much appreciated money order for $10 and the newspaper clippings. They were mostly from what was then The Daily Times. There were articles about assaults and break-ins, rapes and murders. Some were local incidents, some were from wire service reports from around the country.
While everyone one around me was telling me the world was my oyster and the sky was the limit, my grandmother sent a very different message: Be cautious, there's evil in the world.
At the time, I was bemused by what I perceived as her small-town paranoia. Today, I wish I could apologize and tell her how right she was. There is evil in the world and we should be careful.
Now our daughter, Molly, is the age I was then. She's about to graduate from college and is interviewing for a fellowship several states away.
When she enrolled at the University of Georgia, her father bought her a stun gun. Really. A 200,000-volt stun gun. He found it somewhere on eBay and presented it to her. The expression on her face was identical to mine when I read those newspaper clippings years ago. I suspect if I were to ask her where the weapon is now, it would take some searching to find it.
Once she was having a minor problem with a boyfriend. Her father came in during the conversation and misunderstood the seriousness of the situation. He thought there had been a physical component to the altercation. His face turned stony.
"Did he hurt you?" he demanded. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, "because if he did, I'm not afraid to go to jail. You just tell me what happened."
I suddenly realized my sweet, laid-back husband was dead serious. You mess with his family, you mess with his life.
In the past few months, we've lost so many young girls to subhuman beasts, lowlife scum willing to kill for a car and an ATM card. Meredith Emerson, Eve Carson, Lauren Burke - a roll call of lost potential, destroyed promise and senseless waste. I don't want my daughter's name or anyone else's added to that list.
I try to get across to my daughter that there are true predators in the world and her responsibility is to be aware of that and not allow herself to become prey. To always be aware of her surroundings, to think two steps ahead and anticipate problems before they arise. To sometimes realize that while she may have the right to go where she wants when she wants, it's not always wise. She must learn to temper her independence with practicality.
I suspect most of this advice is of the in-one-ear, out-the-other sort. But, like my grandmother's newspaper clippings, it's advice I have to give just so I can sleep at night.
As our Molly ventures out into the world, I pray that she finds a balance between freedom and fear, tempering her hard-earned independence with caution. And I hope she keeps her stun gun charged.

(originally published March 20, 2008 in the Gainesville Times)

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