by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter 11/2007 and updated here 7/11/2008

A few weeks ago, I completed work at the haunted house and left the Orpheum a little after midnight. The night was unseasonably warm, and I had my camera with me, so I decided to try some experimental night photography on the Common: the flag, the lit signs and lanterns, and the monuments. I’m still getting the hang of my first SLR camera, and being a male, have never read the instruction manual.

So I spent maybe forty-five minutes composing different shots of that beautiful flag waving over the center of the Common, the lights, and the impressive monuments. I tried different exposures and shutter speeds. I was having fun.

And at some point, it dawned on me that I out at 12:30am, downtown, no one around but me, and my only concern was f-stops and lighting. Having lived near Boston my first 25 years, I am still not completely used to the concept that I am so safe in Foxboro, even late at night.

It was at that moment that a car approached and parked, and a woman and her little dog got out, and headed for the Common.

It only dawned on me at this point that I still wearing my Halloween-themed black T-shirt and it might be good idea to put this woman at ease, as her first sight was some weirdo dressed in black and Halloween clothes stalking the tree-lined paths.

“Hi!” I said as friendly (and I hoped) as non-threateningly as possible. I quickly explained where I had been the past four hours, to explain my clothing. But she obviously didn’t consider me to be an axe-murderer or anything, and we struck up a conversation. She was interested in my picture taking and we chatted a little bit, and she showed me the little dog she carried, wrapped in its own adorable parka. Her baby.

The woman went on to explain that her mother is in the hospital with cancer and late at night is the only time she has to walk her dog, and clear her head.

“Is your Mom going to be all right?” I asked.

She seemed resolute — almost convincing herself — as she paused and then said, “Yes.”

I know that look. I’ve known more than my share of people who had cancer or some other life-threatening condition, and there is always that firm lip, that determination that the person WILL get better.

My heart went out to her and I promised I would keep her in my prayers. She obviously loves her mother very much, and I pray she will recover.

I think back to the chance encounter — it’s obviously not often I’m wandering the Common past midnight — but I do believe in some form of destiny and Divine plan, and I just can’t shake this feeling that I was supposed to be there that night, at that time.

None of the experimental pictures I took were too good — I still need to practice my night photography, but I don’t think that’s why I was there last month. I think I was supposed to be there, to provide a moment of connection with that woman. Just a friendly face, a few minutes of conversation, but a connection.

I never got her name, but please keep her in your prayers — her Mom is obviously ill and she is clearly worried. I lit a candle for her at Arch Street Church.

Foxboro isn’t perfect, no place is, but for the most part we’re safe here, and more than ever I am grateful for that fact. The security of being able to walk around after dark is something we shouldn’t take for granted — so many communities do not share this gift.

Eleven years ago, my first op/ed piece for this paper was about what a great place Foxboro was, and that I felt safe walking its streets late at night. Seventeen years after moving here, I still feel that way, more than ever.

That safety allowed me to share a few moments with a stranger and perhaps give her a moment of comfort. That safety allows her to walk her dog late at night without fear.

We live in a safe town. At this time of year when we give thanks, let’s be grateful for the safety we enjoy here at home.

Update, July 11, 2008: I bumped into Jean last night on Foxboro Common. She was talking to my friend Lauren, and when she mentioned her dog’s name was Kelsey, it immediately clicked who she was — and I learned to my great sadness that her mother passed away in January of this year. Jean was with her mother every day for eight months and is grateful for the gift of the extra time she had with her remarkable mother. Please keep Jean and her mother in your prayers.

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