Nothing hurts parents as deeply as news of the violent death of a child. Over time, the grief subsides slightly but it never goes away - not after a year or a decade or even a quarter of a century.
When the murders of Auburn freshman Lauren Burk of Cobb County and University of North Carolina senior Eve Carson of Athens made headlines last week, only a day apart, I felt a bit of the horror and bottomless depression that must have overcome the victims' survivors. I do not know the family or friends of either young woman. But I do know this:
Years ago, our family suffered a similar experience with our Ernie, then 25. It still hurts. We never cease wondering what might have been.
As for last week's victims of violence: "Lost are any illusions we might still hold that small-town universities are safer than ever," Marietta Daily Journal columnist Laura Armstrong wrote in a touching commentary on the tragedies of Eve and Lauren.
Campuses are not alone in losing their security-blanket coziness. The parking lot in front of Publix is no longer without danger from deadly mayhem. The commute home from a hard day's work or even reading in one's own living room or picking up the paper from the driveway or selling real estate out of a suburban office - those mundane situations from the American good life have become common scenes of unspeakable violence, roped off by yellow police tape.
A week from now, the headlines will move on. The faces and friends of Lauren Burk and Eve Carson will fade from the news - only to be replaced with the faces of other victims and the sorrows of other survivors. A week or a month from now, kindred tragedies will play out again.
Other bright and promising futures will vanish into fountains of violence. The lives of other moms and pops and sisters and brothers will be shattered.
Yet, murder, rape and armed robbery have become so commonplace that hardly anyone outside the victims' circles pays attention for more than a week.
American violence, flourishing in upscale and upwardly mobile settings as well as backstreet crack houses, has become such a cliché that it is hardly mentioned. A modern Norman Rockwell, trying to capture today's American scene, would not bother painting a kindly old doc checking out a whiny youngster or a GI hugging his smiling girl as he returns from the great war. Instead, the new Rockwell might come up with a painting of Mom tucking a loaded .38 and a vial of tear gas into her purse as she hurries off to work in a downtown office guarded by triple security measures.
Somehow, somewhere, this must stop. We live in the richest society in the world. Our universities are the best, our scholars the brightest. So why are we the most violent country on earth with a population of behind-bars convicts bigger than the populations of many countries? Our nation has become so violent that we are releasing convicted killers from prison to make room for even more wretched criminals.
We have become violent for the same reason our economy is slipping, our environment deteriorating and our impoverishment spreading. Our leaders have let it happen. They don't want to talk about it, much less take the bold steps necessary to return peace and order to our streets.
For the most part, our present-day entertainment-centric news media have stood by without a peep.
Our pundits wonder whether a wrinkled old Navy officer is too old to be president. Our analysts marvel at the charisma and "coolness" of Barack Obama and at Hillary's inability to gain momentum with soccer moms.
No one - not a fist-shaking candidate nor an inquiring reporter - dare mention violent crime. Oh, they talk about terrorists, but they don't mean Vine City hoodlums. They mean Middle Eastern guys wearing head wraps, carrying AK-47s and crying out "Allahu Akbar!" Terrorism in America today doesn't mean doped-up punks with razor-sharp blades and automatic pistols, murdering and raping at will. We had rather refer to homegrown terrorism with less scary epithets to enlist more social workers.
Terrorism apparently does not include a Brian Nichols smirking in a courtroom as he baffles gifted judges who can't seem to overcome obstacles to trying him for the wanton killing of five people.
If we discuss how the Nichols case has revealed the sorry state of our criminal justice system, we risk being banished as racists. Enlightened circles don't want to hear about it.
If the mindless murders of Eve and Lauren accomplish nothing else, perhaps they will remain in the public focus long enough to incite us to take the stern and, yes, colorblind measures required to destroy the terrorists roaming our own backyards.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit him on the Web at billshipponline.com.