starts scary and uncertain for those of us struck by September 11
as one of life’s defining dates.
But for our youngest it may be
just another year.
The matter-of-fact reaction of
my 7-year-old daughter to explanations of current events reminds
me of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. I recall grownups trying
to explain why I shouldn’t worry about the threat of global
nuclear destruction. Those monologues from 40 years ago now seem
more like attempts by adults to calm themselves in a world that
appeared quite normal to me.
These days we older folks
struggle to follow what sounds to us like absurdly contradictory
advice from our leaders: watch for terrorists but don’t panic; be
cautious but go about your regular business.
I get sad thinking about
children facing such a time of confusion and danger in everyday
activities. But those same children might ask why their life is
any sadder than my childhood growing up with the terror of Soviet
and United States nuclear weapons.
Those children might shake
their heads in puzzlement at my emotional reactions that make a
big deal out of anthrax in the mail, while barely thinking about
the thousands who die from car crashes.
After an out-of-town meeting a
few weeks ago I chatted with a jittery colleague as we got ready
to go to the airport. News reports and rumors worried her enough
that she phoned her 18-year-old daughter about whether she should
Her daughter asked, "Mom,
what makes you think you were any safer when you flew last week?
The only thing that’s changed is you heard something on the news
today." Then she counseled, "If what you see on TV makes
you nervous, turn it off."
The standing punch line of the past generation jokes
that it takes a toddler to program a VCR. There may be a hard kind of hope in
the thought that as today’s toddlers grow we’ll be able to look to those young
experts for the wisdom to guide us through their world.