Death is in the newspaper every day. Somewhere, somehow, something horrible is always happening to someone.
Terrible accidents, gruesome murders, fires, war. The news - indeed, life - is full of such misfortune. Then there's the death and destruction that nature can bring - earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis. Each event, each story is a tragedy beyond words for the families and loved ones of the victims.
But despite this daily litany, who among us did not immediately feel sick to the stomach upon hearing about the deaths of four Mainland Regional High School football players on the Garden State Parkway shortly before noon on Saturday?
What parent of teenagers - of children in those terrifyingly dangerous years - did not grasp the shoulders of their teens, look them in the eye and pull them close when they heard the news?
Today, and for a long time to come, our hearts - South Jersey's hearts - will be with the friends and families of Edgar Bozzi, 16, of Somers Point; Casey Brenner, 17, of Northfield; Dean Khoury, 15, of Linwood; and Nick Conner, 16, of Northfield.
The boys had just finished their last summer football practice and were on their way to the Old Country Buffet in Mays Landing to eat. It's a Mainland tradition.
Four other Mainland football players were in the 1992 Ford Explorer and were injured in the accident. Brenner apparently lost control of the SUV, which rolled over several times near Exit 38A southbound, State Police said.
Indeed, Saturday was a day of tragedy throughout South Jersey.
A 7-year-old girl from Williamstown and a 13-year-old boy from Pomona died when a Hummer and the Ford Taurus wagon they were in collided on Route 40. And in Hammonton, two small planes collided in midair, killing one of the pilots, a resident of Voorhees in Camden County.
The grief that all of these families are feeling is unimaginable.
Of course, we all do viscerally imagine experiencing that grief when we hear of such tragedies. That's why our stomachs turn. But the imagined grief cannot come close to the real thing. Indeed, as Edgar Bozzi's father, Frankie, told a Press staff writer: "There's not enough comforting in the world."
Yes, there are deaths in a newspaper everyday. But few days are as painful as Saturday, Aug. 20, turned out to be.
It was a bright, clear, perfect summer day. Families all over South Jersey were out enjoying it. And then, at the homes of those Mainland football players, at the homes of those children who died on Route 40, and at the home of the pilot from Voorhees - inexplicably and without warning - the phone rang ...