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I found out today that 60, not 66 homes burned in our fire. The number 66 showed up on the press, probably in the jumbled early days after the fire. No one thought to count again.

Two people took maps and got in their pick up truck and drove through the fire affected area and counted. They walked on each site making sure they did not miss anything. They did what is called in geography, “Ground Truth Mapping.” With their feet on the ground they counted. They went from place to place marking each burned home until they had found them all.

I don’t know why the reduction from 66 to 60 homes seems bad to me. It makes no sense. I should be happy that 6 less homes than I thought burned. I don’t think that reduced number connects to my perception of the “pot” of sorrow and suffering that was involved in our fire.

Still, the reduced number bothers me. Rather than saying, my house, along with 65 others….I now say, my house along with 59 others…Less than 60 seems somehow to diminish the magnitude of the fire. What if we thought it was 100 and now it was 94? 1000 and now 994? How do we measure these things? Does it mean something different that only 10 people suffered or 20 or 50 or 60? How do we measure suffering?

The only way I know to measure suffering is by the individual. And, from that fact, I think I understand why finding out that only 60 homers burned, not 66 bothers me.

Individual suffering blends with individual suffering and with another and another until it forms a pool that can swell to an ocean. No one person’s suffering is diminished by the total number of people who suffer but the total number of people suffering can rise like a wave crashing on a rocky shore. The power of a million tears is more than the power of thousands.

The power of the millions of tears shows us about suffering. When the tears become an ocean it is paralyzingly overwhelming. Perhaps this is why no one spoke up when Hitler rounded up 6,000,000 people for internment and execution. Perhaps it is why we, as a world, stood paralyzed when Rwanda ran red with blood. Perhaps it is why we, as individuals feel too disempowered to climb up on the rock and raise our voice above the crashing wave and say, “I see you suffering.”

We must learn to speak. One individual seeing another suffering blends with another who sees suffering and another and another to form the pool that swells to the ocean of balm.


September 11, 2014

green hill leading to beach with sunrise over small bay