These Aren’t Statistics; They Are Lives
Ishinomaki, Japan – It is becoming an all-too-familiar scene lately. Killer tornadoes hit Joplin, Missouri, this week, killing more than 125. That’s on the heels of the tornadoes two weeks ago that slammed Alabama, killing hundreds. Which comes six weeks after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that likely killed more than 25,000 in Japan. Then there were the deadly earthquakes last year in New Zealand, Chile and, of course, Haiti – where more than 200,000 perished.
After awhile, the photos and footage all start looking the same to me. I was in both Haiti and Japan and I covered massive tornadoes years ago in Wichita Falls, Texas. I’ve seen the destruction up close, and I’ve seen the photos from Joplin and Tuscaloosa. I’m struck by how similar the rubble and the debris appear, whether from a tornado in Joplin or an earthquake and tsunami 7,000 miles away in Ishinomaki.
I’m growing numb.
To me, the wreckage starts to become nothing more than rubble and the toll becomes just numbers. My son, Andrew Thompson, called it “empathy fatigue” in an excellent article he wrote recently on the Chicago Tribune website. Read it here: http://triblocal.com/wheaton/community/stories/2011/05/empathy-fatigue-2-0/
I don’t want to be numb.
I need to focus on the fact that these are people’s lives we are talking about here.
I was reminded of this as I walked through the tsunami devastation in Japan last month as a volunteer for CRASH Japan. In the piles of debris where homes had once stood, I saw a shattered framed portrait of an adorable Japanese child. In another location, I saw a Japanese sandal and part of a lacquer bowl. Here and there, I would see photo albums, dishes, a baseball and a shattered toy – personal items from somebody’s life.
The little child in the portrait no doubt was loved and cherished. His photo was proudly displayed in his home. Look closely at the picture. He was absolutely beaming in his little sumo outfit.
This child’s home is gone. Hundreds were killed in this seaside neighborhood that exists no more. So he may be gone, too.
If he is gone, what about his parents? Is there even anyone left to mourn him?
Now, I remember that these are not statistics. They are lives.