1. Archive

The human spirit prevails over terrorism

Last Friday night, I stood with my 6-year-old granddaughter in a seventh-floor room of the Omni Hotel, looking across the street into Centennial Olympic Park. It was a wondrous scene, a modern-day Breughel painting come to life, teeming with people enjoying themselves in a glorious riot of color and motion.

We could hear the rock band playing in the Southern Music Amphitheater, and we could see the laser show and phantasmagoric spectacle of surreal autos dancing on the ends of giant cranes, above the billowing, multihued clouds generated by smoke machines at the edges of the outdoor stage.

Twenty-four hours later, the lights were gone, the plaza as devoid of life as the surface of the moon. Nothing stirred except dozens of police walking guard on the perimeter of the park _ gazing out at streets swept clean of humanity.

In between, there had been carnage _ a pipe bomb exploding a few hundred yards from the hotel, spreading death, injury and destruction through the revelers.

Granddaughter Lauren was spared the immediate chaos, because she and her parents were asleep on the opposite side of the hotel. But she heard the news on television when she awoke Saturday, and by breakfast time, was full of questions about why this had happened _ and whether it might happen again someplace where she was standing.

How do you explain terrorism to a child? Or violence? Or the presence of evil in the world? How do you explain the twisted mind of someone we ourselves might have passed as she and I made our way to and from the Friday evening Olympic track meet on Atlanta's subway?

On Saturday, I talked to two of wisest men I know, men who had experienced violence themselves during the civil rights struggle but have surmounted it _ Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and John Lewis, now the city's member of the House of Representatives.

Lewis had been brutally beaten on the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march. When I spoke with him, barely 12 hours after the bomb had gone off, he was completely supportive of the decision to continue the Olympics as planned. "We must not give in to terrorism," said this man who had never given in to intimidation.

Andrew Young had seen his mentor and friend, Martin Luther King Jr., shot down in cold blood in Memphis. He, too, was resolute.

"I was asked on television whether I was downhearted," said Young, whose efforts helped bring the Olympics to Atlanta. "And I said no. I always remember that everything Dr. King stood for became more important after his death . . . and that his message of nonviolence was even clearer."

Only hours after the bombing had shattered the euphoria of the Olympics celebration, Young said his city would come back from it. "Just as many athletes have come here from countries afflicted by war," he said, "we can demonstrate the capacity of the human spirit to overcome all kinds of obstacles."

And that is what has happened. In the jam-up of humanity waiting to be cleared through the tightened security checks at the entrances to the Olympic Stadium on Saturday night, there was no discernible tension, no nervous eyeing of each other. Instead, there were quiet conversations about the tragedy. People stood in line for an hour or more. Few voiced impatience. Many thanked the security guards at the gates for doing their jobs.

Any notion that Americans have become docile acceptors of Big Brother authority, however, disappeared on Sunday afternoon at the tennis stadium in Stone Mountain. After a three-hour rain delay, officials announced that in order to speed the schedule, the featured doubles match for the U.S. team of Andre Agassi and MaliVai Washington would be shifted from the 12,000-seat center court to court No. 1, where less than half as many could watch.

Frustrated fans kept up a cacophony of boos and chants of "Bring it back!" disrupting the center-court singles match that had been interrupted by rain. Thousands left the center-court stands and confronted the cops guarding the already filled court No. 1. It wasn't exactly the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, where John Lewis was clubbed, but it was civil disobedience.

And it worked. The doubles match was returned to center court, and the fans at court No. 1 were invited over to fill the seats of those who had given up because of the rain.

And in a final, ironic twist, the American team was beaten by the brothers Ellis and Wayne Ferreira, representing South Africa _ the nation that now embodies the power of passive resistance.

I hope I can find words to explain all this to Lauren.

Washington Post Writers Group