From my front porch swing during the early evening, I can easily spot a dozen or so streetlights around our neighborhood. Most of them have provided illumination for a long time, even dating back to my early years of growing up just down the street. But there are two streetlights that evoke special memories for me.
One is located about 200 yards to the north of my childhood home. By peeking out the curtains from our bedroom, my brother and I used that streetlight to determine whether the weather forecast of snow had been correct. If any flakes were falling, it would reveal them. It was a beacon of hope on many winter nights.
The other was located in front of our home and was important to our young lives in a different way. In the early morning hours each Christmas, when we were allowed to sneak into the living room to see what Santa had brought, the beams from that streetlight coming through the front windows allowed us to see whether our letters to the North Pole had been answered. Then, during summer months when we camped out occasionally, its light enveloped us with a sense of security that would have been threatened by total darkness.
The other streetlights in our neighborhood did not at that time figure prominently into our lives. Like the trees and houses we could see from our home, they were simply part of the landscape. To the people who lived closer to them, they were no doubt much more important, perhaps even as much as our two were to us.
A child’s worldview is, after all, defined by certain landmarks, such as the family’s economic status, their religious perspective, and their cultural values. Fortunately, that worldview slowly expands as the child grows and becomes aware of how others live and what they believe and what is important to them.
And this happened with us slowly and subconsciously as we came to know and spend time with other children in town. It was indeed eye opening to find out that not everyone liked Frosted Flakes cereal, that Santa was more generous with some and less so with others, that some parents had to work at night, or that many families didn’t worship the same as we did. In short, coming to know and appreciate how different were the lives of young friends was truly the beginning of a life-long process of learning that has been vital to my growth as a human being.
As I sit in my swing looking at those two streetlights, I am grateful for the world of my upbringing, for memories that are precious, and values that continue to instruct. But as my gaze shifts to the other lights in the neighborhood, I give thanks for how my perspective has been broadened through the years as I have engaged with people on different streets and in other places, reminding me that I am part of a large and wonderfully diverse world.