The other day, I took my constitutional just as school was letting out. As I rounded the first corner, I heard fire engines and police cars in the immediate vacinity. School kids, filtering out of their respective schools, joined me on the sidewalk. At the corner a prepubesent boy shouted over my shoulder in soprano, “Hey, guys, come watch the fire down the street. It’s going to be cool!” Looking around the next corner, when I arrived there, I saw all manner of public vehicles, flashers on, congregated two squares down. I did not, however, observe any gawkers.
After about three more blocks of walking , I made a left to return home when a small group of teen-age boys passed me on the other side of the street. In an animated voice, one said, “Did you see that big accident over there?” I smiled at the small confusion, not knowing the truth myself. Two blocks later, from a group of girls, a breathless voice announced, “A mass murderer is around …”
A block before my house, two kids coming from the direction of the incident, a voice stated, “It was really …” I didn’t catch the rest.
The excitement in the voices of the above comments reminded me of the reactions of some elements of human kind before tragedy – the Christians and the lions, the early American colonists in stocks, the boy perched on his fater’s shoulder at the lynching of a negro in the twentieth century south – contemporary, well fed suburben kids coming home from school. I never found out why all of those vehicles were gathered on a quiet street in my Quaker founded town. The incident served to remind me that compassion should not be taken for granted.