When I was in high school in Worcester, Massachusetts I rode the city buses home from school. One block from the school was the bus stop and I rode from that corner down the hill into downtown and eventually to City Hall.
Here I waited for my connecting bus that would take me to my neighborhood. In front of City Hall was a very broad sidewalk. The sidewalk was always full of people — other riders waiting on buses, pedestrians passing by on their way to somewhere, people with no place to be but finding here better than there — the usual mixture of folk. Most of us passed the time watching the traffic and each other and for the most part kept to ourselves. Occasionally we would approach one another to ask the time or to ask if a particular bus had come yet, or if we were less than fortunate to ask for a hand out, some spare change.
I remember that once in a while this unspoken rule of personal space was challenged by those with a special message to share. It could be a young woman asking for a donation in exchange for a copy of a small radical newspaper. Not many papers were distributed and the woman would move on down the street. One day I saw a man with a sign on an easel proclaiming that the U.S. had better get out of the U.N. I was not very mature when it came to foreign policy so I listened to this guy’s pitch with a bit of indifference. My interest was probably more than what he received from the other pedestrians who never even looked his way. Or if they did, it was with a smile and a shake of the head. Of course, the ubiquitous street evangelical was a part of this group offering a message. This message was always one of repentance and having Christ as your personal savior. Again, most people on the sidewalk kept their relationship with God to themselves and never made eye contact with the preacher. Finally, a few times there were the hawkers passing out fliers to everyone who didn’t run away. Most would accept the paper as an agreement that they would then be left alone, and soon after would either toss the paper message in the nearest trash can or use it to wipe the seat in the bus shelter free of water or whatever, and then let the flier fall to the ground at their feet to keep company with the rest of the litter.
I reflect on these memories as I try to come to terms with writing this blog. Am I just one of those with a message on the street? What kind of reaction do my postings exhibit in my readers? I may not even have many readers, if any. On a sidewalk filled with individuals will anyone take the time to look my way? The sidewalk of the internet is so wide that my message is at enormous risk of never reaching anyone. And there are not just a few hawkers but a whole host with fliers of all colors and sizes. I can hope that a few will not run away and will accept my pamphlet of thoughts and opinion, and that some number of these will read and enjoy my work. When I return to the sidewalk day after day I persist and I shout, and I have images one day and mp3s the next, and I hope that my audience is growing. Most I know will never be reached and would rather be left alone with their personal space intact. I wouldn’t be surprised if to some my pamphlet is no better than litter. But as in the real world, there are some to whom the woman’s newspaper speaks, and some who would love nothing more than for the U.S. to ditch the U.N. And so I write for that reader who doesn’t use my work as a means to a dry seat in the bus shelter.