LOOK AT THE REST of yesterday's front page, the awful matrix of news in which the story of James Whitehurst's death was contained. Surely, at the highest level of charity and generosity, it would have to be called something like the "adult follies," this web of news about political posturing and cynical hokum ("Carter Does Some Ethnic Politicking," "Hanoi Relents, Will Admit Congressmen") and violent and non-violent crime ("2,000 Service Stations Violated Gasoline Price Rules," "Town Officials Admit Illegal Spying to Thwart Union Organizers," "Rapist Release Two Weeks Ago Sought in Slaying"). Somehow it ran the gamut from the tawdry to the repellent - and there from out of the middle of it, incongruously but as a momentary reminder of what innocence can be, beamed the face of a small black boy, 5-year old James Whitehurst, who had died in a fire trying to rescue his dog.

Yes, to dwell on it is sentimental, Dickensian, maybe even Harriet Beecher Stowe-like. But, who cares? The fact is that this little boy got onto the front page by virtue of a death he invited with an act of heroism and an excess of love. He had awakened his family when a fire broke out in their house and, having saved them and been saved himself, he stole back into the house in a vain attempt to rescue the treasured animal - and died.

The photograph of this sunny child seemed to bear out the comments of the members of his family. "Everybody loved him," one said. "He was always smiling." Another said: "Every time I think of him, I feel like crying. Those fat cheeks, my man James." Isn't it fitting that this child, whose act of selflessness made him a poignant infant hero, also managed to redeem the unrelenting squalors of grown-up humanity that surrounded but could not overwhelm his story on page one?