The Laughter of Children 

“My neighborhood is so damn quiet,” a friend said. “When we moved in thirty years ago, children were everywhere. Now it’s quiet and all of a sudden we’re old.”

Just then laughter parted the air. Children were playing nearby. “It’s the Woodruff kids,” my friend said with a smile. “A new family has moved in.”

Just as Martin Luther King Jr. said that the most segregated time in America is 11 a.m. on Sunday, so the most segregated place in America may be a suburb, segregated not only by race but by income and age.

As random and incidental as it may seem, children’s laughter can be a sign of a healthy street. Outdoors, it implies that the streets are safe, that grownups are nearby, that a sufficient stock of affordable housing is available, and that there’s a mix of young and old. It suggests that people outside the family care for others.

Neighborhoods may be prized for their zip codes, oak trees, lofty mansions, distance to the airport, and elaborate holiday displays. For myself, I’ll settle for the laughter of children.

For the first time in twenty years, my friend bought some chocolates. Halloween was coming.