Piece of Mind: Does our reserve speak volumes?

Whether we're moving from the grocery store to the dry cleaners, or walking our dogs, or taking turns at the gas pumps, the demeanor of La Cañadans going about routine chores this week mirrors that of students on the high school campus: We are subdued. We speak in voices far softer than usual. We're not smiling as easily as we did a week ago. We lower our eyes to the ground as though we'll find answers for our heartache carved in some sort of code in the asphalt.

Friday morning seemed full of promise. The weather was so balmy that any of us could have been forgiven for contemplating playing hooky. Instead, industrious sorts that we are, we started in on our usual routines. At midmorning a loud explosion rocked the Town Center, shaking the windows of nearby buildings. Within moments, we learned two store employees had been injured when natural gas leaking on the Sport Chalet property was accidentally ignited. Television vans and helicopters arrived; this was a news event. It became more intense as the day wore on and we heard through the grapevine the victims had suffered serious burns.

We can do without big news up here in the foothills. We are, by and large, a quiet populace. Privacy and a sense of security and self-control are highly prized here. We don't want other folks to know about our troubles. We soldier on, putting on as brave a face as we can muster. It's who we are. So when media come a-calling, we have a tendency to opt out of the conversation — unless, that is, we have no doubt whatsoever that we can remain unidentified.

But when bad news reaches our ears, we can be counted on to help out. We'll organize blood donations, deliver food, help children write get-well cards, and give hugs to the victims' worried family members and friends. Many will offer prayers and a shoulder to lean on.

No sooner were community members sorting out how best they might help the burn victims and their loved ones than we were stunned by additional unthinkable news: Just as late afternoon shadows had begun their creep along the ridges of the San Gabriels, a teen jumped to his death from a building on the La Cañada High campus.

We moved together, some mentally, others physically, from one pocket of grief to another. How could this be? Two unrelated tragic events in one day within our relatively compact city limits? Is this not a well-ordered community where life on most days is so uneventful that the kids call our town “The Bubble”?

Hearts were shattered across the city as the news of the young man's final action spread very quickly, largely via social media. Once accepting the truth of the unexpected death, minds immediately went to how his parents, other family members and closest friends would manage the deep suffering that probably had not yet set in. And, of course, we thought of his classmates, as well as the teachers and advisors who cared about him. What could possibly be done to ease the pain and anxiety they were sure to face?

School district officials, obviously greatly distressed by this sad occurrence, have acted impeccably in its wake. The superintendent has put her efforts into caring for our students' best interests. Very swiftly, seemingly by nightfall Friday, the district had arranged counseling services and posted tips for parents on its website.

Through it all, though, and very likely out of respect for the teen who died as well as those he left behind, La Cañadans of all ages have been quiet while their insides roiled with emotions. His classmates organized a candlelight vigil Saturday that, aside from some choral voices early on, was silent for the 90 or so minutes that most of the crowd remained. There were tears — oh, there were plenty of them — but our teens and the several adults in attendance stood mostly mute. What could be said that would make things better? Nothing. Well-timed hugs, however, were accepted with gratitude.

Some who don't know us well might not understand our natural reserve. We prefer to keep our thoughts to ourselves. Is this healthy for us, for our children, for our community? I'll leave that for the experts to decide.

Whatever they might say, no one can deny the compassion that lies beneath. We feel our losses very deeply, perhaps too much for words.

CAROL CORMACI is the managing editor. She can be reached at carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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