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Don't allow killings to darken our light

By HEIDI STEVENS - Chicago Tribune

I'm trying to take my cues from Mother Nature on this day that I process the murders of five newspaper employees in Annapolis, Md.

Not because she's peaceful. Mother Nature is certainly not that. But she adapts. And survives. She's fearless.

Did you know fireflies eat each other? I Googled it the other night -- "What eats fireflies" -- when I was playing in the backyard with my son and noticed the first few of the summer. They're primarily carnivores and frequently feast on other fireflies.

How bold, I thought, to keep lighting up the night even though it makes you eminently easier to locate and devour.

Humans do the same thing. Devour each other. And not for any sensible reason like sustenance. Out of rage, usually. The Annapolis suspect is alleged to have harbored a longstanding grudge against the Capital Gazette after it reported about a criminal harassment case against him.

And unlike fireflies we have human hearts that shatter and grieve and never really heal when one of our own is devoured. Five families in Annapolis, five sets of friends, a newsroom -- they're all grappling with the weight of that sorrow today. It will never leave them. It might start to weigh less over time, but it will never leave.

But here's something else. My parents live next to a several-acre plot of land that used to grow corn to feed cattle. When the land went up for sale more than a decade ago, their township purchased it and dedicated it to open space.

My parents have helped restore the plot to its native prairie habit. Twice a year, my dad sets it on fire. It's called a controlled burn, and it reduces the entire prairie to blackened, charred ash.

And then, every time, it all grows back. Doesn't just grow back, actually. It comes bounding back with renewed purpose. The coneflowers and black-eyed Susans and dropseeds and goldenrods shoot through the ground. The trees whose limbs were burned bare grow lush new leaves. The bees and butterflies and dragonflies and bluebirds that make a prairie ecosystem return with a vengeance.

The things that were choking out the sunlight, pre-burn, are gone. The prairie is free to flourish.

I'm certain there's a lesson there.

I can't make sense of four journalists and a newsroom sales representative shot dead for doing their jobs, anymore than I can make sense of students mowed down in their classrooms or parishioners slaughtered in their church or kids caught in crossfire outside their homes. None of it makes any sense.

But in our search for ways to move forward, to adapt, Mother Nature is an awfully good model.

We have to honor the five people killed by continuing to tell the truth and fight for the less powerful and give a voice to people who need to be heard. All of us do. Journalists and readers. All citizens. That part I know.

We have to grow back. We can't stop lighting up the night, even when it makes us easier to devour.

-- Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.