It's an enlightening, sometimes cataclysmic happening; I remember when it happened to me when I was a sophomore in college. It was very much connected to the war in Vietnam, like millions of other young people at the time. But I hope it would have happened regardless of the tumult.
I have seen it happen with my daughter, who just turned 17. She volunteered for Habitat for Humanity during last spring break, and she wants to build houses somewhere in the Third World next summer.
Good for her, and my pride is palpable.
I bring this up because - and perhaps it's selfish - but I found myself thinking of my daughter first and foremost this morning, when word came across that a suicide bomber - dressed in a military uniform had hit the lobby of a U.N. food program in Pakistan.
Five staffers of the World Food Program in Islamabad were killed. The program provides food to as many as 10 million poor and displaced people across Pakistan, and its mission is now very much up in the air because of the fear of terrorism.
The people of course are the victims - and what in the world will they do for food if the program stops?
Back to my daughter - dozens of people work for this agency in Pakistan, many more work in other parts of the world. Young, idealistic, optimistic, hard-working folks. And what must their parents be thinking? What are they saying to them tonight? What are parents saying to other young people who have had epiphanies about the world and their roles in it? Do you "allow" them to travel to incredibly dangerous places? Do you have any control over them? What are they thinking? And what happens if all the good people stop going to dangerous places to do good work? Don't the bad guys then win, by default?
I've no answers to these questions, just questions. And I find myself thinking of them differently with children who will begin asking these questions for and of themselves.
With that as prelude, we'll have the latest on the unstable situation in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, tonight at 11.
We're also following the twists and turns of the flu and its vaccine - both seasonal and swine flu.
Mayor Bloomberg tonight trying to clarify some of his comments today about how severe swine flu might be in New York City.
Earlier today he downplayed it, and used the term "everyone" when referring to those who got it last season. "Everyone" didn't get it of course; experts have told the Mayor that 20-30 percent of New York City's 8-million population have gotten some sort of swine flu in the spring and developed some degree of immunity. A few weeks ago, Mr. Bloomberg said that 10% of New Yorkers - or 800,000 people - had gotten the swine flu last season.
The truth is we just don't know, but New York at least so far seems to have not as bad a swine flu transmission right now as many other parts of the country.
Meanwhile, the debate continues - should parents give their kids swine flu vaccines, even though they are relatively new to the market and relatively untested?
I for one am hesitant - although my entire family gets the seasonal flu vaccine.
I'm not alone - a new survey by the Harvard School of Public Health found that just 40% of adults are "absolutely certain" they will get the H1N1 vaccine for themselves, and 51% of parents are "absolutely certain" that they will get the vaccine for their children. The survey examined the reasoning among those who said they would not get the vaccine or might not. The polling was done last September 14-20.
And today, hundreds of New York City students are getting the seasonal flu vaccine as part of a pilot program that some officials say is a preparatory lesson for swine flu vaccines.
We'll have the latest on the flu, tonight at 11.
We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.
PS: Thanks to all of you who wrote in your thoughts about the David Letterman extortion plot. As always, some interesting feedback. I've included some of your comments below.
From Sharon-Frances Reynolds of Columbia, Missouri:
"I can understand why David Letterman wanted to speak about this attempted crime. And I understand the wisdom sometimes of a preemptory strike. However I, personally, do NOT want to hear about the 'particulars' - as I think most people do not. And I am not sure I understand why he did not let on early in the 'confession' that this was, indeed, a serious subject. I was uncomfortable when I saw the clips, with the audience laughing. I guess we all like to think we can, and would, handle things better. From the get-go. From the time of the decision-making regarding the initial actions. Don't these people think??
"Thanks for the great column. I appreciate the way you write and the fact that you are willing to share your feelings with us."
Donna Stec from Westfield, New Jersey writes:
"Dave took ownership of this unfortunate situation and dealt with it in true Dave fashion --just as he did with Sept.11, his bypass, the birth of his son, his marriage and his Sarah Palin apology. He was forthcoming about an uncomfortable private situation. Just as he labeled it -- call it his Lutheran Mid-Western guilt. I feel for him and his family and his co-workers. There are, of course, more questions than answers. But I commend him for taking the high road in all of this -- as cringe-worthy as it is. Let's hope the story doesn't go into TMI territory as the defendant's lawyer has promised."
Diane Grossman of New York says:
"Thought Dave was smarter than that...don't s--- where u eat. What's interesting is that it wasn't one of his staff that tried to blackmail him... whoever was involved with him kept it quiet. "'How did the blackmailer find out about his involvements? Was it one of his staff. As Joy Behr says 'who knows, who cares?' Dave is always filled with angst. He wasn't married and was obviously playing the field. Just thought he was more discreet."
Kittie Church from Patchogue writes:
"I think it was sick and disgusting to say the least. What is happening to this country? David Letterman's career with his late night show on CBS is tainted for good - and more likely over.
"This CBS News producer who (allegedly) blackmailed and extorted Letterman should be put in prison."