Two Saturdays ago, this newspaper's front page carried an article on a local art student's bittersweet effort to return lost gloves to their less-than-fully-dressed owners. A critical reader ribbed me: "This is your paper's top story today?"
But the story, whimsical at first glance, struck a deep emotional note. Accounts of Jennifer Gooch's Web site, onecoldhand.com, and her quixotic mission -- to retrieve misplaced gloves from Pittsburgh streets and sidewalks and reunite them with their lonely mates via the Internet -- soon appeared everywhere from Seattle to San Jose to USA Today to the BBC.
These far-flung news outlets didn't carry the story because their readers and viewers might be hoarding Pittsburghers' missing gloves. They used it because Ms. Gooch's project captures the pang that accompanies what she calls "a small moment of loss." Sometimes a glove is just a glove; sometimes it's more. Sometimes it might be an invitation to consider, at a safe distance, the deeper pain that accompanies great moments of loss.
The gloves collected by the Carnegie Mellon University student sprang to my mind just a few days later when a teenage gunman killed eight strangers and himself in a mall in Omaha, Neb.
In the tragedy's aftermath, we learned how hard Robert Hawkins' father, foster parents, family therapists, psychotherapists, social workers, drug counselors and public defenders had worked to try to help him find his way. The state estimates it spent more than $265,000 on his care, and officials felt they had done everything they could do.
Unlike an inanimate glove, the young man had a will and mind of his own, and he refused to undergo any more drug treatment. The state could have kept him as a ward till he was 19 but had terminated its custody of the then-18-year-old, deeming him "non-amenable to further services."
Anguished authorities and caregivers are now asking themselves whether there was anything else they could have done. But who will ever know whether one more effort, one new, unimagined approach, could have recaptured a lost soul? Maybe some lost things cannot be restored.
As the television news anchors introduced the unfolding story of the Omaha shooting last week, many mentioned the tragic holiday timing. Several victims had been clustered at the department store gift-wrap counter when terror and violence shattered the season's happy warmth.
This is the time of year when we give gifts to show others their value to us. We give to our loved ones, of course, but also make special donations to charities that minister to the homeless, the hurting, the lost.
We stuff money into red kettles and mail checks to those who live as catchers in the rye, trying to rescue the lost or the unaware before they plunge over a precipice.
It's simply coincidence that Christmas in the northern hemisphere falls during winter, the season of lost gloves. And you could think of Jennifer Gooch, the artist rescuing those lost gloves, as just a catcher in the wry.
But there's power in her wall and Web site full of forlorn gloves. She tags them with exact notes on where and when they were found, hoping to reunite them with their partners and their purpose. Come spring, the project will become an art installation, its mundane medium speaking to life's daily pattern of loss and gain.
But the "gain" is really only a partial restoration. A graduate student working toward a master's of fine arts degree, Ms. Gooch spent several hundred dollars setting up the project's online component.
"The site is bittersweet to me," she said in initial news coverage. "It's set up for this benevolent aim that might not really be realized. ... If I have one person find their glove, then the entire thing is totally worth it."
Then Ms. Gooch has succeeded. In the subsequent 10 days, she has reunited two pairs of gloves with their grateful owners. More than a dozen local businesses -- mostly coffeehouses -- have accepted drop-boxes for found gloves, other cities are picking up the idea, and an unknown number of helpers are joining the campaign.
It's living art.
Some gloves will go unclaimed. Some of the missing will not be found. Some loss is permanent and some tragic.
Even as "One Cold Hand" lightly captures the pang of loss, it encourages us to keep trying, to rescue and restore whatever we can.
Ruth Ann Dailey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1733.