I had no idea of the devastation that I was capable of. I stood by the metal detector in the Hawaiian Airlines departure terminal in the late afternoon. I had made it this far from Burlington, Vermont with at least one or two stops along the way. There was just one more plane ride to go. I had spent time at my grandparents’ house including America’s Bicentennial celebration that July. I had seen President Ford ringing the cracked Liberty Bell on TV. I enjoyed exploring the rooms of the house that my mother and her siblings had grown up in. It full of old treasures including one I was carrying in my pocket at that moment. I must have slipped it in from my carry-on earlier that day because only now I had set of the metal detector.
A young security guard bent down and smiled at me. She asked me if I had a toy car made of metal in my pocket.
“Or maybe,” she sounded excited. “You have a candy bar wrapped in foil?”
“No,” I answered. “I have this.” And I took out of my pocket a small metal object. It was an empty CO2 container. This is what powers air rifles even today. But the one I had was very old and looked like a miniature version of the kind of bomb dropped from airplanes. And part of that security girls world fell apart. She recoiled and called her partner who was another girl about her age and they called the airport police. Moments later a man was handling my treasure and examining it.
“It’s an empty CO2 container for air guns or toys,” he said dismissively. “Let the kid keep it.”
The poor frightened girls let me go on my way. But I don’t know if they would ever look at a nine-year-old boy the same way again. Their image of childhood innocence was destroyed the moment a sweet little candy bar became what looked like a bomb.
Without warning parts of our worlds can come crashing down. Regardless of the material, everything of the worlds we build collapses eventually. The great old barn at my grandparents’ house stood for maybe a hundred years. I was never allowed in it and it stood empty. And one day it just fell.
Even what is strong can’t last. A little part of my world fell down when I learned that a friend I knew on Maui was killed in an accident last week. He had been a pillar of strength and warmth when I knew him in the Boy Scouts. The idea of a strong and courageous man like him being killed in an accident was a bitter reminder that nothing, no matter how strong lasts in this world.
Sad as I was to hear of his passing, right away I thought back to the memories of this man being an inspiration. He taught me things I passed on to younger scouts. And right there is something that maybe won’t last forever, but still is stronger than the idea of childhood innocence or a solid wooden barn. I was inspired to model courage and integrity. My friend is gone, but what he taught has remained in me and every person I taught.
The worlds we build will collapse. But if we can inspire others, maybe new worlds can be built upon them.