James and Daphne Malone, front, attend the funeral for Paige...

James and Daphne Malone, front, attend the funeral for Paige and Jamie Malone at Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church in Floral Park. (July 19, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Why does it take the finality of death to render life, youth and our own children all the more precious? Why does it take an incalculable tragedy to focus attention on the region's greatest natural resource, its children, and the great things so many of them do?

Monday, young men in suits and polo shirts held tight to family and friends, managing to look strong even as so many wept openly.

Young women, graceful even in mourning wear, gathered with other young people inside Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church in Floral Park and outside, in the street and adjacent community square.

There was no way to know which among them were locals and which were visitors, so many of whom had traveled to the small village from Richmond, Va. And, really, there was no reason to.

Youth - so, so many sad and grieving youth - stood with generations far older and younger than themselves, to mourn three of their own: Yesterday's funeral was for Paige Malone, 20, and her sister, Jamie, 22. The funeral for their friend, Michael Mulhall, 22, will be at the same church this morning.

There came a time, during the sisters' funeral Mass on Monday, when a young man, Mack Clair, stood, and in a voice made husky by sorrow, began to read from the Book of Corinthians:

"When I was a child," he said, "I spoke as a child. I understood as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things . . ."

The three young people lost in the crash were still growing up, but had begun to serve the disabled at Camp Anchor. Theirs was the kind of service we cherish in our young, and one of the reasons we strive to keep young adults on Long Island to raise their own families.

Young people, once they've put aside childish things, are supposed to take on life and live it to the fullest. They have no way of knowing how brave and foolish, how beautiful and how free they are.

Youth is the closest that humans get to immortality.

For most youth, and especially young adults, there is no fear of the future - because there are no endings.

There are only beginnings and more beginnings.

First love. First job. First car. First home. The world is full of promise for them, and that promise becomes their communities' promise.

Then comes a crash on the Meadowbrook Parkway, or some other horror - a terminal illness, a stray bullet - and a community's dreams for its young adults are shattered.

Still, there is no choice but to renew that hope with other young adults, to try as communities to hold them close. And above all, to not despair.

That seemed to be the message Monday. Because there came a time when the skies opened up and the rain, accompanied by thunder, slammed down. Mourners in the park began to move.

But they did not leave.

They gathered, young and old, and shared umbrellas. Some found shelter in a bus, but most others stayed outside, ending up soaked to the skin. Over a loudspeaker in the community park - where the village gathers to light the Christmas tree and to remember its veterans - the crowd could hear the funeral move toward its end.

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound . . .," the churchgoers sang, after the priest reminded mourners that love trumps death.

For a moment, the clouds parted.

Just enough for the sun to peek through.