Alphabet a History: N is for Numbers

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The horror of numbers.

I wrote a post entitled N is for NYC–the place where in hindsight, I see my life turned tack and pivoted with dizzying fashion in my most beloved city. I thought my life had capsized, but it had not.

But then the Sewol ferry disaster happened. A capsized ferry. Hundreds of children on a field trip in the cold water. And their parents on the shore, waiting for them to come home. Too many of these parents are taking home bodies.

I am not tuned into every disaster in the world. If I were, I’d die of heartbreak.

But there are certain disasters that pierce my heart. That keep me riveted. Like 9/11, when I could not be torn from the news. Or Hurricane Katrina. Or the earthquake in Haiti. Fukushima. The death of innocents. Combined with injustice. Stir with the injured parts (unknown and known) of my soul and psyche, and you get obsession.

I’ve been following Joseph Kim on twitter, as he reports from the site of the tragedy. For the past week, he has been updating his followers with the numbers of the rescued, missing, and the dead. I haven’t turned on CNN, which is a huge deal and progression with my OCD (usually I’m riveted to television news during such sagas). He stopped reporting body count numbers a couple days ago.

I was relieved. The numbers are clearly going to be high. They are already too high. They are going to rise. The number of missing will likely and eventually match the number of the dead. Rescue workers are weeping as they come out of the water and carry the bodies. The vice principal of the high school, who organized the fateful field trip to Jeju, hung himself from a tree after 11 hours of interrogation by police and then 2 straight days apologizing to grieving parents.

The suicides and suicide attempts will continue to happen. The culture in Korea is one about taking responsibility, and where regret is not an issue taken lightly. And suicide is less shameful than letting other people down. The death toll will rise. The numbers will continue to increase.

The numbers.

12.

Then 15.

Then 20.

Then 50.

Then 100.

Then 108.

Now the autopsies. The parents are opting to do autopsies on their children to see if they died from drowning or hypothermia before putting them into the ground. And in doing so, they are discovering approximate time of death.

One of the victims passed away hours before discovery.

If only, if only–if only the passengers had been evacuated. If only the weather had cooperated. If only they had been found sooner. If only the captain had been at the wheel. If only the crew (with the exception of Park Jee Young, who died trying to save as many lives as possible) had done their jobs and stayed with the ship. If only there had been adequate safety precautions and training.

Hours. Numbers. Minutes. Days. Numbers.

I myself am doing a fair amount of waiting these days–waiting for the words to come to my novel. Waiting for the Muse. Waiting for paperwork. Waiting for resolution. But my waiting is nowhere near the perpetual misery of the parents.

And nowhere the hell of the students who struggle/d to stay alive in that sinking ferry waiting to be saved.

Help comes, but sometimes it is too late.

That is the hell of asking for help. Of being vulnerable in the world. Of waiting at other people’s mercy and power.

Numbers. Days. Hours. Minutes. Numbers. Waiting.

As time ticks down, the numbers of the dead increase.

AND DAMMIT: I already did N. I did not have my coffee before I wrote this. Remind me that I need to write “L” next. I guess I really like the letter “N.”

***

Joining Heather’s Abecedary, Fog City Writer, and other writers like Susan Ito in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.

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7 Comments

Filed under Alphabet: A History, Life, Memes, The World

7 responses to “Alphabet a History: N is for Numbers

  1. This tragedy is one of the saddest events I’ve witnessed in my entire life. My heart broke for 9/11, hurricane Katrina, Haiti, Venezuela, when it was annouced that the nuclear power plant in Japan was falling down, but this is the saddest so far. I have no children, but still the thought of this loss that hundreds, thousands of people are going through honestly breaks my heart. I feel so much for the families affected and my love is going out to them.

  2. Today’s instant, global nature of news reporting leaves one with two choices: To become broken down by the endless chain of tragedy across the world, or to become numbly indifferent to suffering. Neither option is very appealing.

  3. Hello,
    I like your blog so thanks for all your effort in posting regularly. This tragedy is so frustrating, especially after seeing another Ships captain abandon his passengers to certain death in the Costa Concordia tragedy. As a former Naval Officer, this makes my blood boil.
    Is it true that Korea turned down offers of help from Japan early on as this was unfolding or is that just a rumour? Either way, nothing will bring these innocent people back.

  4. It’s a truly awful tragedy. I just blogged about this too, specifically on why I think that Western critics who try to link disasters like this to Korea’s Confucian culture are so often misguided. Please check it out at Sweet Pickles and Corn. Cheers!

  5. I like “N” too. “N” for nevermore.

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