It's been 20 days since our town lost its innocence. Twenty days since a madman with a gun snuffed out the lives of four U.S. Marines and a Naval petty officer for reasons we may never completely understand. Twenty days since our last morning to wake up without grief and anger and uneasiness.
But most of us eventually will get past such feelings, that improvement likely to arrive little by little, day by day, week by week. We'll return to whatever our new normal will be now that the somewhat carefree old normal likely is gone for good.
Yet for the five families of the victims, their lives never will be the same. They lost husbands and fathers and sons and brothers and friends. They lost normal forever, and no amount of time should be expected to change that.
But there is something that can be done without much trouble to help those five families financially going forward, much as this community and state and nation already have done so much to help in ways both big and small.
When the U.S. Women's World Cup championship soccer team comes here to face Costa Rica in a "friendly" two weeks from today, it can stage an open practice the night before at Finley Stadium with all the proceeds going to the Chattanooga Heroes Fund that Peyton Manning set up to help those families.
Yes, the game itself sold out in 24 hours last month. Yes, there is yet no word that there will be an open practice any time before that game. Nothing requires the team to generate such charity.
But the overwhelming odds are that they're going to practice somewhere in our community before facing Costa Rica on Aug. 19. There also are overwhelming odds that thousands of school children in our town and the surrounding area who couldn't afford a ticket or were too late to acquire one would love to see the U.S. team, if only in practice.
Maybe the team's brightest star, Carli Lloyd, will be here and maybe not. Maybe its most enduring presence, Abby Wambach, will stop by the Scenic City as part of her unofficial retirement tour, and maybe she won't. But most of the younger women who'll form the U.S. team's future undoubtedly will play, hopeful to inspire all the girls and boys who love the game as they do to one day make soccer more than a youth sport in this country when it comes to television, advertising revenue and everyday importance beyond the World Cup and the Olympics.
"It's my goal that by the time I finish, I've put the game in a better place," Wambach recently told The Sporting News. "So that next generation will have more money, will have more endorsements, will have more corporate sponsorships in their back pockets so we will have a little more equal-like pay with the men."
It's a noble, important goal. And as more and more soccer moms become soccer grandmoms, it has a strong chance to become a reality over the next 25 years.
But for now, 20 days after the worst day in Chattanooga's history, it would be a better short-term goal for the U.S. women's team to help the families of the victims of the July 16 terrorist act, whether anyone officially is willing to label it that.
Consider this: Stage the practice late enough on Aug. 18 for all those kids just starting back to school to make it easily to Finley for a one-hour workout. Let's say 7 p.m. Adults get in for $5, kids under 13 for $3, those 5 and younger entering for free. Parking is $2 in the Finley lots. Beyond that, the whole team and coaching staff agrees to sign a maximum of 25 "#NoogaStrong" T-shirts to be auctioned off to the highest bidders.
Given that the U.S. Women's World Cup final win over Japan had the highest television rating of any soccer match — men's or women's — in our nation's history, the auction alone figures to bring in five figures, especially if U.S. Soccer guarantees the signatures of Lloyd and Wambach on those T-shirts, whether they show up for the match or not.
If Finley is filled, U.S. Soccer should be able to write a check to the Chattanooga Heroes Fund on the order of $100,000 or more. Even a half-full stadium could bring in at least $75,000 if the T-shirt auction is a hit. And with ESPN in the house, it wouldn't hurt the worldwide leader in sports television to kick in another $50,000 or so. Maybe some of our town's best restaurants could cater the cable giant's meals for free in exchange for a mention or two on the air and that $50 grand.
Will it happen? Who knows? An email from this newspaper to U.S. Soccer regarding the idea of a practice to raise money for the 7-16 tragedy hadn't yielded a response as of early Tuesday evening. The Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, which oversees the Fund, no doubt would welcome such charity but isn't in the business of soliciting such help.
So while it's hard to see why it couldn't be done, as more than one wise person has noted over the years, the devil is in the details.
Yet it's also tough to imagine a more perfect way to provide a glimpse of our world champion women to all those youngsters out there who weren't fortunate enough to get a ticket to the Costa Rica match while also providing at least a small bit of financial comfort to those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect us from a madman.
In those five families' greatest time of need, it just can't get any more friendly than that.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.