IF YOU ARE fortunate to have a comfortable, if not lavish, life, it is easy to become encased in a cocoon, even in this age of information. You read bad news in the papers or watch it on TV -- the street killings, the drug culture, family abuse -- and feel like a voyeur looking in on values foreign to yours. You feel no more connection to the torrent of crime news than you do to the freakish relationships laid bare on Geraldo and Sally Jessy.
Then, you read an account like the one last week by Sun staff writer Alan Craver about John and Johanna Gladden, the Columbia couple whose teen-age daughter was murdered by her adult boyfriend, and you are, for a moment, breathless. The Gladdens didn't come off as oblivious to the trouble ensnaring their daughter, Tara. They tried talking with her; combed her room for drugs; tried unsuccessfully to meet the boyfriend, and changed phone numbers -- to no avail. Curtis Aden Jamison, now 30, was convicted last week of killing Tara to keep her from talking to police about his relationships with underage girls.
Parenting adolescents is walking a tightrope of trust: You want to build your child's maturity through your confidence in them, but you must deal with suspicions, too. It's the old contradiction Ronald Reagan used to espouse about the Soviet Union: trust, but verify. A parent who is certain the Gladden tragedy couldn't befall them is lucky to be viewing it in hindsight.
Another local story last week reverberated similarly: A man went to pay for the gas he had just pumped and a carjacker took off with his car -- and his 2-year-old inside. Instantly, visions surfaced of Pam Basu, the Howard County woman who when confronted with a similar situation three years ago grabbed onto her car and was dragged to her death. In this case, the victim was too far away to stop the carjacker, who fortunately dropped off the toddler at a nearby McDonald's before getting away. It is against state law to leave a child under 8 unattended. Nevertheless, we suspect most parents couldn't honestly say they had never done so, to buy a quart of milk -- or pay a gas attendant.
For many, the most frightening stories aren't of war atrocities half a world away, or of a paranoid militia half a nation away, but of instances here at home in which we could insert ourselves without much leap of imagination at all.