Why We Can’t Understand Ten ThousandCulture — By Stephanie Baker on December 9, 2013 at 2:00 pm
Friday, November 8, began as a normal day for Eduardo Jabulan and his wife, but it ended with tragedy. They live in the Philippines, and when Typhoon Haiyan hit their city that day, they struggled to survive along with many others. They lost their three daughters that day, aged three, seven, and eight, but they also lost their way of living. They’ve been unable to grieve properly because they’ve been trying to find food and water and simply survive for the past two weeks.
This horrific typhoon wounded and affected millions, while the number of dead was feared to be more than ten thousand. I read the news and my heart ached for these people that I didn’t know – what a terrible tragedy for them to deal with. But then I went back to my homework or Facebook and moved about my day. I imagine that many people were able to move on, considering that my day proceeded normally and not as if a part of the world had just been shattered.
When a tragedy affects this many people, it’s harder to feel personally connected to those people than when a tragedy only affects a small number of people. When we’re able to see faces with names, we feel the need to mourn with the grieving families and offer any help or assistance that we can give. But when all we see is a number, we can’t process the tragedy in the same emotional way.
For me, ten thousand is too big of a number to grasp. It’s hard to get your head around a number that big. You can raise your eyebrows and say, “Wow!” but do you really know what ten thousand means or what ten thousand looks like?
Ten thousand dollars buys a diamond necklace with 14k white gold. Each neuron in the brain is connected to ten thousand other neurons. There are approximately ten thousand different species of birds. In the Pixar movie Up, Carl attaches ten thousand balloons to his house to make it fly. A mobile home weighs about ten thousand pounds. Multiply ten thousand by 390 and you’ll get the number of people living in Los Angeles.
Though knowing these facts may help, ten thousand can still just seem like a large number. When we’re faced with a staggeringly large number of people affected by a tragedy, it’s important to remember that these are people we’re talking about. They each have a name and a face and a story. Ten thousand stories. Ten thousand laughs. Ten thousand smiles. Ten thousand hands to hold. Ten thousand first steps. Ten thousand first kisses. Ten thousand awkward teenage years. Ten thousand dreams. Ten thousand lives. And they all died in an instant.
Thankfully, the ten thousand originally estimated dead was wrong. As of this writing, the estimate was around 3,500 dead. Though considerably less than ten thousand, this number is still an unattainable number. We can’t put faces and names to all of those people, but even so, we have to remember that they were people, too, who lived with their own hopes and dreams that the typhoon took right along with their lives.
When we’re faced with an impossibly large number like this, we still need to mourn and grieve with the families, even if we don’t see their faces or know their names. We can pray for the unnamed, and the stories that were cut short. Even though ten thousand people did not die, more than eleven million were affected, including Eduardo Jabulan and his family, in physical and emotional ways. There are ways we can help them. Though not everyone can travel to the Philippines and lend a physical hand, everyone can donate a few dollars and help others to lend hands. My sister has worked with the organization Kids International Ministries in the Philippines on a number of missions trips. KIM is sending a team of nurses along with other aid and relief to Tacloban, the city most affected by the typhoon and the city where the Jabulans live. You can donate to their cause here. There are also a number of other organizations you can donate to in order to send support to those in need. Check them out here.
Maybe we can’t quite grasp the number ten thousand. But we can remember the lives of those lost by helping those still living, like the Jabulans, who do see the faces and know the names of the dead. And maybe if we learn a few of those names, we can come to a better understanding of ten thousand.