Stalin once said that one death was a tragedy, and a thousand was a statistic. Considering how many thousands of his own people he killed, he'd know, I guess. But, cruel and callow as he was, Stalin had a point. We can understand the great loss of a single life. But you can't magnify that by thousands and expect it to have the same impact. It goes from being something which is personally relevant to something which is globally relevant.
This isn't to discount the great suffering these people are going through. God knows I wouldn't want to do that. This is a tragedy of almost biblical proportions. It's just that this is too big for a person to cope with. So we don't. We sorta turn it into something else. We turn it into history.
Oddly enough, I'm reminded of a passage from Douglas Adams's classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The earth has just been destroyed, and Arthur Dent, the hapless protagonist, is attempting to reconcile that idea with his own understanding of the way reality works:
He was now six light-years from the place the Earth would have been if it still existed.
Visions of it swam through his nauseated mind. There was no way his imagination could feel the impact of the whole Earth having gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parents and his sister had gone. No reaction. He thought of all the people he had been standing behind in the queue at the supermarket two days before and felt a sudden stab--the supermarket had gone, everyone in it was gone.
Maybe the human mind just wasn't designed to handle this scale of death and destruction. Perhaps that's best, though. I mean, I'd hate to think what the world would have to be like for us to be able to cope with a death toll that high.
But really, the one positive aspect of this whole thing is that we're seeing people behave like decent human beings again. We're seeing the world pull together and do whatever it takes to help the victims of this disaster. Folks are donating money, clothes, food, time, their lives to help out the people who've suffered because of this. It makes you think that maybe, just maybe, humanity has a chance after all.
Song of the Moment: Old 97s, "No Mother"