Posted by Trina Bartlett
Yesterday evening, I walked my dog through a section of the public park near my house. Children screamed with joy as they chased each other and played on playground equipment. Youth shot basketballs as parents watched from benches, and individuals waded in the creek. A young man with an accent rested his bike against the pavilion and joked with me about my dog.
And I smiled.
Had I not followed my gut and taken a risk of making a lot of people mad at me, none of those individuals would have had the opportunity to enjoy their evening in the same way. They would have been prevented from entering that part of the park by caution tape and overly eager volunteers.
But because I instinctively knew that no one had a right to prevent the public from enjoying that space, these people enjoyed a beautiful Friday evening.
But they didn’t enjoy it without a price – a price I paid.
There’s no need to recap my story of the Boy Scouts telling me I couldn’t walk in a public park since I’ve already written about that (see blog here). But if anyone is interested in the epilogue to the story, here’s a condensed version:
After being told by a staff person with our local parks and recreation office that the Boy Scouts had not received permission to section off and prevent others from entering that area of the park, I once again attempted to take my dog for his usual evening walk. And I was once again confronted and told I wasn’t allowed. After basically being accused of being a liar, I walked through the marked off section of the park anyway. And (shocker), I didn’t bother anyone or provoke any tragedy. In fact, the only tragedy that occurred that evening was all of the people who were once again chased away.
I later ran into the director of Parks and Recreation who apologized and reinforced that the group had not been given permission to close off that section of the park. In fact, groups were never allowed to be close that section of the park. In other words, my instincts were correct, and my resistance was justified.
When I told the director that the caution tape was still up and that bright orange signs proclaiming the area to be off-limits had been added, he promised he would address the issue with the group.
Unfortunately, the whole situation was a result of miscommunication. The local parks and recreation office had booked the Boy Scouts for the wrong park, and, because of that, the Boy Scouts really did think they had permission to seize control of that area of the park.
But, despite that, I have to question where the common sense was in this whole situation. Why would anyone think that particular section of the park was appropriate for an event that the organizers believed required a great deal of security? And why hadn’t other people who had been chased off spoken up? (I’ve since heard from plenty of other people who were angry but didn’t question anyone.)
If I hadn’t asked the tough questions and pursued the matter, the people I saw enjoying the park last night wouldn’t have been enjoying it.
The situation is resolved, and I finally received an email from the Boy Scout executive with whom I had been trying to communicate. He didn’t apologize but neither was he rude, and since I was becoming increasingly rude with the group, he deserves credit for that. He did emphasise that safety of their scouts was a top priority.
I understand that. Over the years, I’ve had responsibility for thousands of young people. I just didn’t bully others to ensure their safety.
Which goes back to my question about why a group so concerned about the safety of young people would hold an event in such a well-used and public section of the park.
I, and many others, use that part of the park as a point of entry, and hundreds of others enjoy it every day. It is also the only area that provides access to a public stream (although the stream wasn’t roped off by the Boy Scouts, and people could still use it if they walked around the park to get to it.)
The bottom line is, if security were such a concern at the park, the Boy Scouts should not have chosen that particular location for the event unless they had another purpose, such as training volunteers to be guard dogs. The only other obvious benefit was the visibility of their recruitment signs.
But, regardless, the whole situation is now behind all of us, and the boys who were participating in the event weren’t hurt or prevented from enjoying their activities. In fact, as I walked my dog by (not through) their new and much more appropriate spot in the park last night, I was stopped by one young camper. (Just for clarification, he was outside the roped off area.)
“Is that your dog?” he asked. “He’s really big.”
“He is,” I said. “He also gets really excited so you don’t want to get too close because he jumps.”
“O.K.” the boy said, and then he changed subjects. “Hey, do you know what I’m doing here?”
“No,” I responded. “What are you doing?”
“I’m at Twilight Camp. And the Webelos get to spend the night.”
“That’s awesome,” I replied as the woman with the boy looked at me skeptically, as though I were lying and really didn’t want the boy to have fun.
‘Yeah,” the boy said. “It is awesome.”
“Well, have fun and be safe,” I said.
“I will,” he responded, then he and the woman in the orange vest walked away. But I was fortunate to hear the rest of the conversation.
“Do you want to know who that was?” the boy asked.
“Yes, I do,” the woman in the orange vest responded.
“That,” he said with obvious pride, “Was my Sunday school teacher.”
And I couldn’t help but smile. In the same week I had been labeled a security risk, a young boy was proud that I was his Sunday School teacher.
And that made all the trouble of the week completely disappear. It also reminded me that I am a role model, and sometimes being a role model doesn’t mean succumbing to the pressure or demands of others. It also doesn’t mean I have to be perfect or always use the exact right words.
Sometimes it simply means following my heart and doing what I know is for the greater good, even when people get angry with me or question my methods.
In the end, the smile and respect of a child is simply worth it.