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Tragedy on the Choptank


Tragedies make news, and on any given day in the media, you can find plenty of them. A holdup, a drive-by shooting, a plane crash, a fire. They register on our psyche not as blow after blow, but too often as a stream of background noise like the Muzak on elevators to which we don't pay heed.

And yet a rare piece of news strikes people as so horrific it makes their chests heave a great sigh, to remember the things they should be thankful for, to hug their kids tighter, to wonder how the survivors will cope, to want to turn back time.

The fate of the Thompson siblings of Bel Air was such a story.

Jennifer, 10, and Samuel, 6, were lost Saturday in a canoe accident in the frigid Choptank River off Tilghman Island. The only children of Laura and John Thompson, they had gone out with their uncle and had been out a half-hour when the wind-whipped water got angry and rolled their canoe.

The girl slipped away in the unforgiving current and eventually the boy did, too. Paul Weber, the uncle, hung on that canoe for four hours awaiting rescue. Who can imagine the anguish that must have coursed through his head? A playful morning one moment, a family shattered the next.

Stories such as this at the advent of boating season beg reminders about water safety, about wearing, not just carrying life preservers and assuring that they fit. But those precautions aren't infallible, certainly not in 54-degree water.

Jennifer Thompson's body was recovered with a life preserver on; her brother's life preserver had slipped off and was found later, although his body was still being searched for late yesterday. And even though the water conditions were rough Saturday morning, state Natural Resources police reported that the canoe wasn't in an "atypical" area and Mr. Weber said they had boated off Blackwalnut Cove numerous times before.

Perhaps bad news doesn't faze people as often as it should because they can't identify with it. A suburbanite in a new home thinks she's immune to the story of a decrepit city rowhouse gone up in flame. A frequent traveler reads of a airliner crash -- and flies off to his next appointment. But reaction to the story of the Thompson children seems universal: There are no guarantees. Take nothing for granted. Count your blessings.

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