Of those who dared wonder about such things aloud, no one took the measure of one year more eloquently or powerfully or achingly than the late Jonathan Larson.
For his fledgling stage play, "Rent," which he would not live to see, Larson now famously wrote:
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes,
How do you measure
A year in the life?
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes!
How do you measure the life
Of a woman or a man?
In truths that she learned,
Or in times that he cried.
In bridges he burned,
Or the way that she died.
How then to measure, measure the distance from this weekend to the same weekend last year?
In charges, in victims, in anguish, in lives in ruins?
A year ago, Jerry Sandusky was in the President's box at Penn State home games. Now he's in a room by himself down the hall from death row. Who knew the heretofore mythical Penn State-to-state pen thing took almost exactly a year?
A year ago, Joe Paterno was worried about what Nebraska's football team might do to his Nittany Lions right there in the middle of his 46th year as their head coach, not about the lung cancer that would attack him fatally in the coming weeks, and not overtly about his legacy, which was headed for a cliff.
A year ago, very few Pennsylvanians could pick Graham Spanier out of a lineup, the same for Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, Louis Freeh, Mark Emmert, Rodney Erickson, Karen Peetz, Cynthia Baldwin, John Surma, Linda Kelly.
The political class and some portion of the electorate could identify Tom Corbett, whose importance to the reluctant, eclectic cast in this rolling storm of a melodrama increases in direct proportion to the governor's screeching for it to wane.
Unofficially, one year is the distance between one brutalizing Linda Kelly press conference about Penn State and the next, as it was just Thursday of this past week that the Pennsylvania attorney general unveiled eight fresh counts against Spanier, the former school president and the last uncharged man on the university's alleged Sandusky Watch.
Spanier now faces the identical charges filed a year ago against athletic director Curley and vice president Schultz, which brings us to where?
Nowhere for certain.
"Make no assumptions," Kelly said. "This investigation continues."
Make no assumptions.
That's good advice anytime.
Just as we make no assumptions that the boardwalk in Atlantic City that's been there our whole lives will necessarily be there on Tuesday, we're to make no assumptions that a hail fellow well met like Sandusky wouldn't use the charity he created for vulnerable children to fuel his own galloping pathology. We're to make no assumptions that the power structure running one of America's most conspicuous bastions of academic excellence and ethical application will do the right thing in all situations, particularly if its lucrative brand is thought to be jeopardized.
Maybe that's how you measure a year. Maybe it doesn't just take a year to learn those things; it takes a year like this one. A year in which Sandusky's lifetime of menacing and deception, once misunderstood and/or ignored, has drawn such a precise parallel to the sinister pratfalls of the Catholic Church, of the Boy Scouts of America and its "perversion files," and now of the British Broadcasting Company.
You think Sandusky fooled some people?
Jimmy Savile, whose high-profile career as radio and TV host at the BBC spanned decades, got himself knighted by the Queen and the Pope for his charitable works.
Since his death last year, however, it appears Sir James' legacy will run closer to that of a voracious sexual predator, as hundreds of witnesses have come forward to corroborate the stories of at least 10 young girls claiming they were molested and/or raped by Savile.
Investigated quietly from time to time through the years, Savile always insisted he was not a pedophile. Sandusky said the same thing.
"They could take away my life, they could make me out as a monster, they could treat me as a monster, but they can't take away my heart," Sandusky said in his last public statement. "In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged disgusting acts."
In a book called "The Many Minds of Billy Milligan," author Daniel Keyes looked into the mind of a man arrested for a series of rapes on the Ohio State campus in the late '70s. A victim of child sexual abuse at the hands of a stepfather, Milligan had what's now called dissociative identity disorder, and a mind split into 24 distinct personalities, some female, some homosexual, some predatory, even one that spoke as a heavily accented Yugoslavian immigrant. Most of the people in Milligan's mind, it turned out, knew nothing of the Ohio State rapes.
Is it possible that the Sandusky you saw interviewed by Bob Costas, the Sandusky who wrote the statement above, and the Sandusky who got himself convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse are not the same person, mentally? I'm not a clinical psychologist, nor do I play one in the newspaper, but I think I might have read this story before.
As for Penn State, where it seems everyone was far too much of the same mind, the question after one year drifts in from the new administration's willingness to absorb the scathing admonitions in the suspect Freeh Report and the preposterous non-jurisdictional sanctions administered by Emmert's avenging NCAA without a peep of protest.
Is there something else?
Penn State might have lost the moral authority to defend itself, but is it failing to defend itself in even some practical sense because it knows the worst revelations are yet to come?
Perhaps that's not the case at all, but I would make no assumptions.