In contemplation of the scale of the loss.

You know, one of the hardest things for me about the tragedy is coming to terms with the sheer scale. It’s just not possible for me to understand in simple human terms how great has been the loss of life and the suffering of those who loved them.

But then I thought about this message board: It’s full of amusing, intelligent voices – above average ability, if you will, rather like the majority of those lost, its occupied by primarily US citizens but with a significant minority of other nationality, all vibrant, colourful, creative and analytical people. Each of them with families, some dysfunctional some more blessed. The analogy could continue…

Then it struck me that if this message board has, say, 450-500 active voices over a week or so, imaging an office desk with at least ten computer monitors, each displaying a board like the Straight Dope and then imagining surfing those ten for a week and reading all the voices, it might help me begin to get my head around the loss.

Maybe I spend too long online, maybe that’s a weird way to think about conceiving the scale. But it helps me, I think, because it’s about the voices, not the numbers.

The phrase “Armenian earthquake” does it for me, somehow. When you hear a news account of an “Armenian earthquake” and the death toll is some unimaginably large number of human beings, and you see the footage of towns completely leveled, with people stumbling aimlessly through the ruins, then, for me, that’s the mental size of the WTC.

The size and scope of an Armenian earthquake.

I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. Around 5000 people live in that town. The loss on Tuesday was like that of the whole town just disappearing, being wiped off the face of the earth.

My friend put it beautifully.

“I’m nearly crying now, Adam… Just imagining all those tables with a missing spot, and all those empty beds.”

Names.

I was watching “Unbreakable” with good friends the other night, and nearly started crying in the funeral scene; the preacher is reciting the names of the train wreck Willis’ character survived.

Imagine reciting them for this.

Assume “only” 5000 dead. Furthermore, assume you’re able to maintain a sustained average of one name per second. Five thousand seconds. It will take you roughly 84 minutes to go through them all.

My grandmother put it much the same way. “All those poor kids waiting for their parents to come pick them up after work.”
I can scarcely wrap my head around the numbers. It’s impossible to pay the usual tributes to the fallen. After the Columbine massacre, everyone in America learned the names of the deceased, saw their pictures, learned who they had been and saw the hole created in the lives of their survivors. We’ll never be able to know all of these people in the same way, but each one was just as much an individual who will be missed.

A week ago we would have been aghast at news of a tragedy that took 500 lives, and were it a terrorist act it would have appalled us as being on the scale of the Oklahoma City bombing.

And that, 500, is the approximate number of Brits alone who were murdered in the World Trade Center on Tuesday.

I think that and then find myself flashing back to the indivdual stories. 5,000 deaths leaves how many survivors without their children, their spouse, their parent, their friend?

I’m becoming overwhelmed as I type this.