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Jewish World Review Dec. 24, 2001 / 9 Teves, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

The stories that
never make Page 1


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- I SAW a startling front-page newspaper headline the other day, one that stopped me in my tracks.

The headline, above the main story on Page 1, was: "House Allows More Retirement Savings."

I picked the newspaper up, trying to get over my shock, and soon found out that the headline was not so shocking at all. The secret was in the date on the front page.

It was a newspaper from last May 3 -- a million years ago. Someone had left it on a counter top, and for some reason no one had thrown it away. What was so surprising about it, in December, was that it had nothing to do with warfare, nothing to do with terror. A newspaper front page dominated by news of routine congressional actions -- imagine that.

Actually, a lot of people lately -- starting with President Bush -- have been imagining that, or trying to. Although the war on terror has been our national context since Sept. 11, there is a growing feeling that, if we can, we should attempt to get back to the nuts-and-bolts business of running the country. The president, in his weekly radio address last Saturday, said that domestic legislation having nothing to do with homeland security should be a top priority. "As we wage war against terror," he said, "Americans [have] made it clear they are also worried about the challenges we are facing here at home."

Will America's newspapers revert to stories that are reassuringly stodgy any time soon? Will the front pages be skimmable -- news that can wait a few hours to think about? Will a vote in Congress about savings account regulations make banner headlines, because there is not enough carnage and devastation to write about that day?

It's not that we lack non-war news; it's just that it gets pushed aside. Life trudges along, but doesn't get recorded as diligently as it might in quieter years.

I've been talking with the mother and father of a 33-year-old man, who are very worried about their son, for reasons that would not warrant headlines in any year. Yet in listening to them, I am reminded, as ever, that the real truths of our individual lives seldom make the paper or the evening newscasts.

The man has not a single friend. That is what his mother and father are anguished about. He is a trained accountant, but has had emotional and mental problems for most of his life, and has no job. His parents noticed that he had terrible trouble making friends when he was 8 -- they went to the school and asked the principal for help. The principal observed the boy on the playground at recess and told the parents that their son was a "Sad Sack."

They have tried, they said, all his life. His mother told me that, in an effort to help the boy socialize the year he was 8, they told all the neighborhood children that they could play their baseball games in the family's back yard. After a few days, the other boys told their son that they would play in his yard -- but that he could not play with them. The mother's voice still breaks when she describes the day her son told her about that.

He has been hospitalized five times; he is on new medication that his parents think helps him see the world more clearly, and he recently received a job offer -- but after a background check turned up a violent altercation he had five years ago after an especially troubling personal setback, the offer was rescinded. His parents aren't trying to gloss over the facts of their son's life -- but they are growing older, and they worry about what will become of him when they're gone. It's difficult to blame them. That's a pretty stark piece of information: Your only son is 33 and does not have a friend in the world, or a workplace in which to interact with people who might become his friends.

We tell ourselves that since Sept. 11 our country and our planet have been awakened to the reality of pain and suffering -- but of course the suffering is always with us, always has been, one soul at a time. The news coverage of the war these last three months has been urgent and riveting, shoving everything but the loudest outside distractions off the world stage. One of these days the headlines will be about quieter matters again. But the silent personal wars will be waged as they always have, while no one notices.



JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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