Gurney's Inn
August 16, 2006

Reporter's Notebook

I began this column sitting by a sparkling lake in Rhode Island, watching my Boy Scout troop let loose in nature, as I reveled in the utter silence of mornings stirred only by a gentle breeze and the sound of birds chirping to greet the dawn.

Lulled into a sense of tranquility, I watched my son cavort on a kayak, a wide smile on his sun-kissed face, listened to little boys regale me with big-fish tales and reports of lessons learned about environmental science and geology and citizenship. Worthwhile subjects. Time well spent.

Nothing bad can happen here, I thought. Not on this stretch of impossibly beautiful property, where towering trees are testament to mankind's quest to preserve such natural treasures for posterity.

There are no radios in Boy Scout camp. No television sets. No cable networks. Basically, no news.

But as a woman who is not only a journalist but has also been known to watch her share of daytime dramas and made-for-TV movies, I was all too well aware that, whenever things seem too good to be true, whenever humans dare to let their inherent fears dissipate and their proverbial guard down, bad things tend to happen.

And so it was when some parents made the trek from Eastern Long Island, boarded the ferry and drove along I-95 until they reached Camp Yawgoog and headed through the gates to visit their sons, bringing with them boxes of donuts, care packages of candy and the words that would shatter what had perhaps always been a false sense of serenity.

In Britain, security forces had foiled an alleged plot to bring down passenger-filled trans-Atlantic flights heading to the United States with a bevy of explosives.

Bedlam ensued. Flights were canceled. Travelers were told they were no longer allowed to bring iPods, laptops or anything liquid onboard planes headed toward the United States; many were forced to open carry-on luggage and dump their possessions — shampoos, perfumes, cosmetics — into the trash. Individuals stripped of the essentials that make us human and forced to face the unthinkable as the specter of terrorism ignited ingrained fears.

The situation was a sharp parallel to the record-breaking beautiful weather we'd been experiencing in summer camp. As the cool breezes rustled through the trees and the sun warmed the lake, across the ocean, children were terrified and parents propelled instantly back into panic mode.

Of course, there have been irreparable tears in the fabric of our American consciousness since planes brought down the Twin Towers and signaled the end of our American innocence across the board.

As we near the fifth anniversary of 9/11, it is impossible not to know deep-rooted dread as we listen for news each day of yet another terrorist attack designed to obliterate all that we are forever.

Even in our Boy Scout troop, there have been changes. No more campouts at the Empire State Building. Too dangerous, say officials, even though there is a Scout shop nestled deep in the heart of that historic building.

No more trips to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, it was announced last week. Never again will Scout and school groups wend their way up the winding staircase in wonder until they reach the pinnacle, the ultimate symbol of American democracy. The Statue of Liberty, all agree, is too easy a target, too easy to take down.

This latest plot uncovered raised alert levels and brought the bitter taste of fear and loathing right back into our mouths.

But what to do at Boy Scout camp where parents and leaders work tirelessly each year to instill values and prepare our children for life?

The answer, I soon learned, was in carrying on. Despite the grim word outside camp gates of a world gone wild, inside, children were still children, eyes wide with innocence as they learned how to weave baskets and sail boats onto the open horizon.

No fear. No dread. No disillusionment — not yet. And when hundreds of Scouts gathered on the field for a last day parade and saluted the flag, a symbol of the democracy they still believe can protect them and keep them safe from the evils of terrorism, a singular vow was renewed in my own heart. If I can do nothing else, I will work every day to keep that innocence alive in the hearts of children who still believe that earning a merit badge is the first step toward success in college and a happily ever after they hope to attain.

I won't let the terrorists dispel that image. Won't let them taint young minds with poison and fear. Because if we, as parents and educators and elected officials, allow the American dream to die, a flickering fire in a pile of ashes, then those that wish to wipe us out of existence forever have truly won their final battle.

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