Dec. 10, 2001: This is not the column I intended to write.

As I was scribbling away on another piece that would amuse my friends and confound my detractors, I learned of a family that had just lost a daughter in an automobile accident. I don’t know the family, but a friend does. The young woman was an honors graduate of the University of Georgia’s music department and was on her way to perform in a Christmas program of some sort when she was killed. The tragedy doesn’t end there. Two years and one week ago, the family’s only other child, also a daughter, was killed in an automobile accident.

While most of us are fretting over Christmas shopping, the BCS polls or some equally trivial matter, two parents will spend the rest of their lives without the people who matter most to them – their children. I cannot conceive of the pain they must feel but the situation raises a lot of questions for which I have no answers.

What benefit accrues from losing innocent young people who have so much potential ahead of them? What higher purpose is served when crazy, immoral scum hijack airplanes and kill innocent people while half the world looks the other way or tries to justify this insanity? Why does this young woman lose her life while a dirtbag like John Walker, who turned his back on his own country and joined the Taliban, is spared? Is our world better because a good person died young and a lowlife like John Walker survives? Why couldn’t it be the other way around?

Does this world really benefit from an Al Sharpton spewing his racial prejudices or a Pat Robertson blathering his narrow-minded and bigoted philosophies? In these traumatic times, wouldn’t we all be better off with someone who could make a little music and for just a few minutes drown out all the smug, self-righteous elitists who want to remind us of all the things that are wrong with us?

Do we need Madonna or Eminem? Do they make our planet a kinder and gentler and better place because they are here? And why has Osama bin Laden been allowed to walk on this earth instead of Jim Ellenberg? Jim was a quiet, humble individual and one of my best friends. Aside from my father, Jim may have been the finest man I have ever known. He died over 20 years ago, and I still miss him. I don’t understand why someone that good couldn’t have stayed around a little longer so that he could have touched more lives like he touched mine. And I don’t understand why one family should lose both their children in automobile accidents in such a short period of time. More than enough sorry people are walking around. Why do we have to give up the good ones?

I am at a loss to understand why things happen like they do. I can only assume that God has a game plan that doesn’t require my understanding or approval. It is what it is.

Instead of trying to make sense of seemingly senseless events, maybe we should spend more time trying to be better people. Maybe God is saying that when someone good leaves this earth, we need to be ready to step in and take their place, like athletes who bust their tails on the practice field in hopes that one day they’ll have a chance to show that they belong on the starting team.

A good place to begin would be with placing things in the proper perspective. Certainly, my own problems don’t look nearly as important as when I started writing a few hours ago. I have friends. I have family. I have four grandsons whom I love dearly. In the light of what this young woman’s family is enduring, I can’t think of anything that qualifies as a problem at my house anymore.

If this tragedy is God’s way of telling us not to sweat the small stuff, it worked. When the good die young, everything else is really, really small stuff.