DAYTON, Ohio -- In a week of unremittingly grim news, you might expect the discovery of intern Chandra Levy's body to be little more than a footnote.
After Sept. 11, her name had been lumped into the litany of "frivolities" that convulsed us before the disaster: Bill and Monica; "Survivor"; Gary Condit and Chandra Levy.
"Many of the characters who made their way into the spotlight during the first eight months of the year now seem like answers in a trivia contest," David Crary of The Associated Press wrote in a year-end wrap-up.
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin compared Sept. 11 to previous media obsessions such as the Levy case, O.J. Simpson and Monica Lewinsky: "People were spectators and got caught up in long-running soap operas. This is a real event with real consequences."
There was a dismissive tone to the post-Sept. 11 coverage, as if Levy's disappearance had proven merely one more curiosity in a celebrity-besotted age. As if Sept. 11 dwarfed the life and death of one young woman into insignificance, something that barely rose to the level of "a real event with real consequences."
Consider the news last week alone: On Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney called another major terror attack against the United States "almost a certainty." On Monday, FBI Director Robert Mueller declared that suicide bombings in the United States are "inevitable."
They are the kind of pronouncements that make Jimmy Carter's infamous "malaise" speech sound like a pep talk.
Against this backdrop, you wouldn't expect the general public to care that much about the fate of Chandra Levy. And yet, we do.
If Sept. 11 taught us anything, it is the significance of every human life.
If Sept. 11 taught us anything, it's that we can't predict the future -- for good or evil.
If Sept. 11 taught us anything, it is that we must hold on to hope.
That is exactly what our government, these days, seems to be telling us not to do. The message seems to be, "There's nothing we can do to protect ourselves." "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."
Surprisingly, given the odds, that is the one thing Chandra Levy's parents never did. On Wednesday morning, Robert and Susan Levy told Oprah Winfrey they still hoped to find their daughter alive.
"We know, under the circumstances, it doesn't seem likely, but, you know, as parents, we have to maintain that hope," her father said.
Not long after the interview, Chandra's skeletal remains were discovered by a man walking his dog in Rock Creek Park.
For her parents, Chandra Levy was not a soap opera or the answer to a trivia question. She was a vibrant and beautiful young woman who journeyed to Washington, D.C., for what should have been the adventure of a lifetime.
Only now, in their grief, have the Levys shuttered themselves from the press. For one year and three weeks they endured the mad blinding glare of the media. They did it for one reason only: the hope that the publicity would bring their daughter home to them.
What parent can't identify with Robert and Susan Levy? We all hold out hope for our children -- for their futures -- even in the face of the grimmest warnings, the direst certainties.
Even in the face of Sept. 11.
McCarty writes for the Dayton Daily News.
NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE