I'm not sure silence is the best response to a brutal accident in which a little girl is suffocated when her clothes catch in the maw of a subway escalator.

The horror is reported, and in an effort to avoid the macabre, I guess, the account gives you only the most shapeless picture of the event. The point of the report was simply to say death came to a child in a bizarre way on an escalator, and that nobody seems to be at fault.

These things are easier to take if we can point to the subway system and growl that every safety feature known to man was skimped on. As it happens, however, those escalators are already the slowest in the entire world.

As far as anybody knows, no blame attaches to the subway system. And as far as we can tell, no blame goes to the grandmother, either, who was with the child. Nobody is to blame, evidently, but how can that be, when an innocent happy little kid is dead?

Usually by the age of 12 we arrange not to think of the question that keeps coming up, why is life so woven with horror?

Everybody knows about the little sea turtles that hatch off the coast of Queensland and race from the beach to the warm sea, decimated (torn apart, living) by hungry sea birds. This one dies and that one lives, and while at first we are horrified and do not understand it, we come by the age of 12, as a rule, to the conclusion the hungry birds have to eat and this is Nature's way of feeding them. As if that answered anything.

Any fool can see that "Nature's way" is hideous, but we cannot take ourselves out of nature, despite endless good tries. We say there is a balance, a kind of dance or a kind of round, by which it all comes full circle. Not that that explains anything, either, or answers what I assume is everybody's objection to the fate of the baby turtle.

But that happens to animals, so it need not be thought of, once the wretchedness of the arrangement is seen and dismissed.

Horror in the human world may be deflected a little if we concentrate on the tragedy by which a basketball team loses 50-52, or the allegedly frightful pain of some nitwit divorcing another or some tragic heroine who has broken a shoulder strap.

We focus on trifles because trifles are no trouble. I never knew a divorced person yet who didn't continue to eat like a horse and talk your ears off.

But then something really hard to deal with hits. Maybe a kid killed in a car crash, maybe an old woman raped by a punk. These cannot be brushed aside so easily as the tragedy of a heel coming off in the receiving line. Even so, there is usually somebody or something to blame fiercely, which makes it better.

If there is enough to be outraged about we can get things in balance by screaming for the criminal's head and avoid much of the horror of the event.

It never gets in balance again, does it, when a little girl dies horribly, without even the warning of a long illness (in which we could thank her deliverance from pain) and with nobody to blame at all. .

Why a child is lost in a terrible way is a question wrangled over since time began, but Job never got an answer, or any better answer than the command to shut up, since his mind and heart were not up to comprehending ultimates. And one reason the Psalms have always been loved so much is for pointing out the pain of the just and the fat rewards of the wicked. Yet they offer no answer, either, beyond the assurance it will all be fixed at the last. To believe this you may need three martinis more than a reasonable faith.

Still, if you say there's nothing but random accident and blood, you haven't got any closer to an answer. You're not where you want to go.

If I ever find an answer, I hope to have enough brains to know it's the wrong one. If there were no answers for Job or the psalmists it's not likely I'll get the news that makes all things clear.

The real reason it hits us like a brick, when it's an escalator and a kid, is that we there see horror clean and pure, not veiled or clouded by the necessity of birds to eat or men to fight for ideals or drunks on the highway. The horror of those things we can push away by blaming somebody, but pure horror cannot be pushed and must be endured.

Ancient Egyptians thought righteousness was a talisman to carry you through fire and Socrates thought nothing bad can happen to a good man. But what chance have you got, when horror descends not only on good men like Job or Socrates but on a small girl?

The question is there, the answer is not, and we're supposed to be content knowing we are not going to get some thing we want. The question is no longer to find the answer -- that was given up ages ago -- but how to live without one. One of the good poets thought about it and got hot and told God off and grew more wild at every word, without feeling all that much better. And he thought he heard a voice say, "Child," and he said back, "My Lord."