- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

My heart dropped as I read the story of a young mother greeting her son as he came home from his first day of kindergarten on the afternoon of Sept. 11. The school year was only hours old when the boy, who was all of 5, was forced to try to make sense out of a senseless situation.

Like so many children all across the nation, the young boy had learned of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in his classroom. When he arrived home to his mother's open arms, the boy was frightened and confused. He asked his mother why someone would crash planes into buildings, hurting people. The mother, like many parents on that tragic day, was struggling with what to say. "I don't know," she replied. The boy paused for a moment to think. "Maybe the pilot spilled his juice and lost control of his plane," he said. "Maybe that's what happened, Mom."

It never occurred to the young boy that such hate and cruelty could exist in this world.

While no child in America has escaped the tragedy of the past several weeks, I found some solace in knowing the innocence of childhood has not been lost forever.

But as the numbness wears off and our children try to cope with this tragedy, it is essential to be there for them. There is no simple remedy to diminish the pain our children are feeling, but your words of comfort will allow them to hold on to childhood for as long as possible. When your child looks up to you with a tear in their eye, embrace them and tell them it will be all right. Ensure them they will laugh again and there will be a brighter tomorrow.

While it is difficult to understand the overwhelming events of Sept. 11, it is not difficult to explain to a young person that they are loved. Talk to your children. Let them know that you and the other adults in their lives care about them. Encourage them to share their fears and insecurities-and when they do, be sure to listen carefully. Offer them guidance, support, protection and most importantly hope.

Out of this unspeakable tragedy is born a lesson in tolerance. As our nation's grief turns to anger, I have been disturbed to hear reports of Arab-American children coming home from school the victims of abuse by classmates. This only adds to the cruelty of the tragic events. Young people need to understand that the perpetrators of these horrific acts are not representative of Islamic Americans or the Arab-American community. Let your children know that the vast majority of Muslims are grieving along with the rest of us.

We must remember that one of the greatest attributes of this nation is its diversity. We live in a country where people of all different races and religions live together in peace. A country where we strive to understand, and even celebrate, our differences. It is this diversity that makes us stronger.

And now, as we join together at this critical time in our nation's history, we must stand together, as a nation, united with the president, his staff and Congress. We must build the strength to deal with what lies ahead.

America was driven to her knees to mourn the events of Sept. 11. But now, it is time to get up and stand tall. While our hearts may be broken, our spirit is not. Working together with courage, faith and determination, there is no challenge we cannot overcome.

One of the goals of the perpetrators of this unthinkable act was to dim the spirit of our nation. We can not let that happen. We must now demonstrate our strength and resilience by returning to normal, everyday life. We must move forward together.

Over the coming weeks, as we heal and the tears begin to dry, we cannot lose sight of the greatest hope for the preservation of America our children.

They are the future of our society, the preservers of our dreams, the promise of America.

Alma Powell is the wife of Secretary of State Colin Powell and vice chairman of America's Promise the Alliance for Youth.

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