Sunday, March 7th, 2021

O Shopper Columns


The front porch was once where many Americans ended their day. Workplace stress, family arguments at the dinner table, worries over one's bank balance, and news of global upheavals could be put aside. Settling into a rocker or porch swing, one could "sit a spell" and "take a breather."

Not that any of the world's troubles went away. They were still waiting to be dealt with, but for a while, one could sit and breathe. Conversations could be casual or non-existent. Words weren't necessary. Quietly sitting and watching the night come in was all that one need do.

We humans need silence as much as words. Perhaps as much as air. We need stillness to make sense of all the movement in our lives. Sitting on our proverbial, if not literal front porches, we can observe with a sense of temporary detachment whatever is happening on the street where we live. We need time to ponder things and mull over the consequences of our choices. In the stillness, we can reexamine what we long ago accepted because parents and grandparents, teachers and preachers told us that was the way things had always been.

Lately, Mother Nature, unpredictable old girl that she is, has given the world a kind of forced time-out. That can be as edifying as a breather on a front porch if one takes advantage of it. Apparently, many have.

Recently two friends posted online a photo taken from the front porch of their house in the Fan District of Richmond. Their home, well over 100 years old, was built by a retired Virginia governor, and it is a beauty. My friends have hosted parties and gatherings there, and no matter the weather or time of year, guests invariably drift onto their front porch. Because theirs is an English basement-style house, the porch is on the second floor. Being more of a balcony, it offers a fantastic view of the street below, lined on both sides with historic homes. Two blocks away, the street runs into a graceful circle with monuments erected a hundred years ago to honor the way things had been in a previous age. From this front porch, we have watched annual marathons and parades.

The photo that my friends posted showed a different kind of event. Their two-lane street was filled to overflowing with people of all ages, colors, and genders. Walking in the direction of the circle, most carried posterboard signs. The scene was like those flooding the media of other such marches happening the world over. Though this image was still and silent, I could sense the movement and hear the soundtrack.

For as long as I can remember, marches and protests have been a part of the daily news. But this time, they look different. No particular age, ethnicity, or gender dominates the crowd. And beneath the shouting, chanting, and outrage, I sense a spirit of calm assurance that change is indeed coming. It's almost as if those marching had "a breather" on a front porch. It's as if they've pondered the way things have always been and have decided that parents, grandparents, teachers, and preachers were, in some essential way, mistaken. And so, they've left their porches and walked into the street.

The insights that come to us on the front porch must not stay there. Streets run through our neighborhoods, and neighborhoods make up our world.

Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouth’s official channel) since 2011.