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Hope is a powerful antidote to fear

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Wednesday, September 27th, 2006 — Children deserve to live in a world that allows them to dream.

Whether sleeping or awake, the world of their dreams should be filled with good things -- things that allow them to feel happy and safe.

For instance, the other day our 41/2 year-old granddaughter Emma dreamed we went to the Candy Restaurant for dinner, where candy was featured on the menu. She and I have decided that we need to find that restaurant, and if there isn't one already we should open it.

But not all of Emma's fantasies are about candy. Last week I learned how easily a child's imagination can turn to scary things.

Emma was playing at our house. She pulled her imaginary car up to the imaginary forest at the side of our driveway. As she and I stepped into the forest, I told her we needed to be very quiet because there were lions sleeping near the trees and we didn't want to wake them.

Let's not talk about why I thought Emma would enjoy strolling through a forest populated by sleeping lions. She did not. The very idea had her hightailing it back to the car. Even my assurance that these were only pretend lions was not good enough. She was having nothing to do with lions, real or imaginary -- or with me, for that matter.

I felt terrible that I had scared her. Moreover, I didn't want to be in the doghouse with her parents for the nightmares that might follow. I surprised even myself when I said quickly and with great conviction that what was really in the forest were fairies. If we tiptoed quietly we might see them.

Without skipping a beat, Emma whispered, "I'll get my fairy basket so we can catch them." (These fairies were not on the endangered species list!) She got her basket from her car and led us on a fairy-spying adventure. Then we brought some of the finest specimens back home to join us for tea.

Lessons can come in small packages. This one was a close-up look at the world of a child. Children are vulnerable to the dangers they sense are lurking around them. These days kids see and hear more about these dangers than they should have to. But children also want to trust their world. They want their fears put to rest. Children like to get on with their tea parties, or go to the Candy Restaurant.

Hope and wonder -- and the possibility of a different reality -- lie just beneath a child's very real fears. Adults are different. Too often, fear blurs our vision of a better world.

I believe most ordinary citizens and political leaders everywhere have the same desire for a safe and friendly world as children do. The time has come to give priority to this common goal and find opportunities for peaceful dialogue.

Hope and vigilance are not mutually exclusive. Hope is a powerful antidote to fear, and promotes positive steps toward solutions. Children know this intuitively. For a kid, getting along with others is better than playing by oneself. Here's another page in the family album.

Jack is our 3-year-old grandson. One day he was playing "work" with his dad. Jack was the lawyer and his dad was the judge. Jack presented his case -- no doubt a superhero had gotten into some trouble with the law.

"Do you have any evidence?" asked the judge.

"What's that?"

"Evidence is something you show the judge to prove that your client is innocent," said dad "So ... do you have any evidence?"

"Yes."

"What is it?"

"Candy!"

Bribery 101? Maybe, but I prefer to claim the grandmother's exemption and see it another way: Offering a well-placed olive branch is better than proving how bad or wrong someone is. If kids can figure that out, so can we adults.

There is a sequel to the lions and fairies episode. Later that night, on her way to bed, Emma noticed the globe in our den. "Is that the world?" she asked.

She slowly turned the globe. "Does the world keep going on and on forever, Grandma?"

"Yes, Emma, it does."

I swear I heard a lump in her throat. I know I had one in mine.

These are the dreams of children. A Candy Restaurant and candy in the courtroom are children's ways of expressing their desire for a happy world free of suffering and strife.

Adults also long for peace, and dream of creating a safe and peaceful world for children. It is a common desire that has the capacity to unite all people and flies in the face of fear that separates and divides. It's time to shine the bright light of hope onto the pervasive fear that affects all of our dreams. Children can show us the way.