The football fields around here sit empty. So do soccer fields and blacktop basketball courts. The Beltway Sniper has changed life, for now.

After we find the killers and console the families and friends of the dead and maimed, we in the Washington area will face a subtler challenge: We'll have to restore our children's childhoods.

When I was a kid, the worst I had to worry about was running into a bully after school, and making sure I looked both ways before crossing the street. Not so with my kids. Fear has become the background noise of their lives, as constant as the whisper of the wind. They believe jets regularly crash into buildings, the mail carries biotoxins and bad guys hunker down, as a matter of dark and evil course, in trees and alleyways.

This is just wrong.

Kids ought to spend their childhoods learning to believe that love and goodness exist in this world, and give life its shape and meaning. These beliefs come in handy later in life, when hardships and tragedies test even the most optimistic among us.

I'm not sure how we do it, but we have to breathe life into those fading virtues, while taking stern action to make terrorism something it used to be: absolutely and truly unthinkable.