Today I had a meeting that got out at 9:00pm and I walked home in the dark. It's not something I have done much of in the last year that I've lived in Louisville, and I find that I have a completely different relationship to the dark here than I have anywhere else I've lived, and it's probably because I am never in it. Especially in the summer months. Darkness here seems so emphatically dark.
A couple weeks ago I went to a concert in Cincinnati and two hour drive back home through northern Kentucky frightened me because it was so dark. Not a town, not a street light, few cars, us, and blackness. Driving in the dark is not a new thing for me, especially growing up in the middle of nowhere in Utah, but it's not something I have experienced much of in the last couple of years. In London it seemed like it was never dark. The cloud cover is so constantly low creating an ever present orange glow over the city, so even though the sun went down in the winter by 3pm I never felt uncomfortable going about my day. And I never had a problem walking around after dark alone when I spent those few months in New York a couple of years ago.
So I set out to walk the 20 minutes home tonight enjoying the cool autumn night, and it was lovely (except for the fifty pounds of books I was carrying back). What is the point of never going out after the sun goes down? If I can do it in New York and London (and Provo, which is not as safe as we all might think) then I can do it in Louisville. Besides, people get attacked more in the daytime here around the campus than they do at night. I resolved to not live in fear and to spend more time outside after dark.
But when I got home I ran into the Next Door neighbor telling my Upstairs neighbor about her concerns over Upstairs' son playing outside by himself. "I just don't think he's safe to be alone in this neighborhood," Next Door said. Now, I've seen the Upstairs boy and he's got some street smarts and an attitude, and because I care about my neighbors, when I see him playing outside alone I keep an eye on him. But we live in one of the poshest of neighborhoods, and there are always neighbors out walking their dogs. And now this poor kid is not going to be able to go outside anymore because of a nosy lady. I know there is some something to her concern, but it just made me think a little more about how we lock ourselves indoors all the time. Of course someone could abduct the Upstairs boy, but he could also be bored inside his house and do something that gets him injured or killed.
I'm not entirely sure where I stand on this issue. What should we do? Should we "take back the night" as it were and walk confidently down our streets after dark? Should we let our hypothetical children play outside alone in the middle of the day? Of course then it would our fault if something happened to us or our kids, but people have no qualms over strapping their babies in to high speed death machines (that's what I call cars). I don't know. It seems all too arbitrarily cultural to me.