I got my bubble burst last week. I have always been enamored with natural disasters. Maybe because I love severe weather. Maybe because I love the excitement. Maybe because I a bit of an adrenaline junky. Maybe because I love to see a shakeup in the status quo. But mostly because of the way people are when a collective disaster strikes.Walls come down. Differences fade. Community develops. The little things just don't matter so much. I long for that. I thought that was the way it always was.
Last week I was reading Richard Lloyd Parry's chronicle of the earthquake and the tsunami that hit rural northern Japan in 2011, Ghosts of the Tsunami. He particularly focuses on one village and one school. There were just over 100 students in this K-5 school. After the earthquake, several parents came and took their children home. leaving 78 children at the school when the unexpected happened and the tsunami hit. Of those 78 children, only four survived.
The immediate aftermath of the tsunami brought about what we have all come to expect: kindness, compassion, camaraderie, a pulling together to survive. But after the initial shock wore off and life began to take shape again and families had to move forward, a rift developed. It developed between the families that had lost children and those that had not. Between the families that had lost all their children and those that had at least one left. Then a rift between the families that were able to find and bury the bodies of their children and those who could not. It is absolutely heartbreaking that in a scenario of such horrific loss each person was so completely absorbed in their own brand of loss, in their own story, that they could not see that their stories were more alike than different. Pain, suffering, loss, grief....they do that, I guess.
We all do it. We compare. We compare our pain to somebody else's. Other people compare our pain to somebody else's. And chide us. "At least he isn't hitting you. Look at Sandra's husband. Now I feel sorry for her." "At least it wasn't rape. It can't have been that bad." "Quit whining, you have a roof over your head. Look at those poor people in India." We expect that quantity and quality are the same thing.
Quantity of suffering does matter. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study shows that with each ACE comes a large percentage increase in physical and mental health issues well into adulthood. And yet even with the ACE, there are mitigating factors. So quality of suffering matters, too. A child with more resilience will have fewer negative effects with a higher score than a child with less resilience. So a child with no social or emotional support will suffer just as much or more over an adverse experience as a child with better support but more experiences.
I saw a meme this morning that said that you can drown in 8 feet of water just as easily at 20 feet of water. The quantity of water doesn't matter.
We can't compare suffering. We just can't. Abuse is abuse. Betrayal is betrayal. Loss is loss. Pain is pain. How can we come alongside each other, alike in our suffering though perhaps different in our circumstances? What are your ideas?