It's been a surreal couple of weeks in the greater Washington, D.C., area. With a sniper lurking who knows where, filling your car up with gas has become a potentially life-threatening procedure.
Making the situation all the more surreal is the fact that there is no profile of the sniper's victims - other than being innocent souls engaged in routine acts of day-to-day life - and the sniper's motives are a complete mystery to most of us.
But one thing will make this surreal scene as real as the morning sunlight:
Learning about the width and breadth of the lives lost to this madman.
Like those lost to other terrorist attacks, the eight souls felled by this sociopath's long-range rifle were real people with full lives, and a network of loved ones and entanglements and achievements - and hopes and dreams for more to come.
James Martin, 55, a program analyst, Vietnam veteran, Boy Scout leader, school volunteer and church trustee. He loved red wine and wore amusing ties.
Dean H. Meyers, 53, a civil engineering project manager, another Vietnam veteran. He liked to care for stray cats.
Kenneth Bridges, 53, co-founder of a distribution network for black manufacturers. A father of six, he spent evenings playing with his kids.
James L. "Sonny" Buchanan, 39, a landscaper who was shot while mowing - something he sometimes did without pay. Most of his resume consisted of helping others.
These are just half of the lives lost in the shootings stretching from Oct. 2 through Oct. 11. And these few details hardly measure the size of the holes left. It is incomprehensible, really.
It is amazing, the amount of goodness in one seemingly ordinary life. The number of people touched. The acts of kindness filed safely away into the past, where no sniper can touch them. The love created and felt - again, in places no terrorist can reach.
These were not wasted lives. Far from it. They were integral parts of the world-wide web of human life. How profoundly tragic that they were cut so short. And how utterly wrongful. But how complex and lasting and beautiful their contributions.
The unbridled evil hiding behind the butt of an anonymous rifle can take away these people's lives. But he can't take away the lives they led.
That's as real as it gets.