Track Watch

Despite the tough reason for the gathering, I found this morning’s story on NPR to be an amazing description of community-in-action, especially in times where it seems you rarely see communities mobilizing for the betterment of their own interests.

Residents of Palo Alto, Calif., are in mourning. Within the past six months, four students from the same local high school have killed themselves. Now, volunteers — some parents, some not — are maintaining a safety watch, trying to prevent another tragedy.

Twice each hour, the same routine takes place at a busy railroad crossing that runs through a residential Palo Alto neighborhood. First the warning bell sounds, as the crossing gates lower to block access to the tracks.

Twenty feet away, parents huddled along a chain-link fence freeze, midsentence, and look down the tracks toward the approaching headlights. They watch as the massive silver commuter train bears down and then hurtles through the crossing.

And then, just like that, the train is gone. The gates go up again, faces relax, and the adults resume their quiet conversations.

The idea that suicides come in clusters can be tough to think about, but these sorts of community efforts will hopefully pay dividends in many ways, the least of which is showing the youth of the community that the adults care about their well-being (and not just their own children’s), and are willing to put their money where their mouths are.

More than 70 volunteers have completed at least one shift since Track Watch began. They arrive in down jackets and knit caps, and set up camp chairs and share a thermos of coffee.

I’m hopeful that future community gatherings don’t require such sad predicates.


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