Excuse Me While I Rant! On 9/11 and Other Numbers

This evening I read a note that Rick Steves posted on his public facebook page.  While I am a huge fan of Rick Steves and respet his work as an Travel Writer and Humanitarian, I think he missed the mark and landed short tonight.  Here is his note as posted on Facebook:

9/11 and Other Numbers (by Rick Steves)

This month we Americans — all 300 million of us — remember the tragic loss of 2,973 lives, when terrorists attacked our nation. In the more than 3,000 days since that terrible event, hardly a day has gone by when 9/11 hasn’t colored our response to what life has dealt us since. We have mourned together the loss of these innocent victims of this horrible act. And we have been reminded of the fragility and preciousness of each of those lives. I think it’s safe to say that the loss of these nearly 3,000 Americans has changed each of us in some way. And our collective response to the tragic event has changed us even more.

On this ninth anniversary of 9/11, as I remember our loss, I challenge myself to consider other human tragedies that have occurred since then — the loss of lives, the causes, the grief, and how they might have been avoided or minimized. I meditate on proportionality; on our response to each of these tragedies — and on how the desperation and suffering of the poor, dark, and dirty, uncovered by news media, plays out in our hearts.

In 2004, more 4,000 people — mostly civilians — died during the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq.

Each year since 2001, between 11,000 and 17,000 Americans have died in alcohol-caused car accidents.

Every day, more than 25,000 poor children die from diseases rich children don’t get.

Every year since 2001, an average of 30,000 Americans — most of them innocent victims — have been killed by firearms.

Since 2007, Mexico has lost more than 22,000 people to the war on drugs.

In 2010, an earthquake in Haiti killed nearly 230,000 people. In 2005 and 2008, earthquakes in northern Pakistan and China’s Sichuan Province took approximately 75,000 and 70,000 lives, respectively. These earthquakes likely would have caused far less death and destruction in lands with First World building codes.

In 2004, an estimated 230,000 people perished in the Indian Ocean tsunami. In 2008, more than 130,000 people died when a cyclone swept through Myanmar.

Since 2003, about 300,000 have been killed in Darfur.

Imagine the horror in little Honduras when Hurricane Mitch struck 12 years ago. Approximately 20% of that nation’s 7 million people were left homeless, while 70% of the country’s transportation infrastructure was demolished. Mudslides killed more than 6,000 people. In a horrifying instant that few of us here in the US even noticed, a land with 3% of our population lost more than double the people we did on 9/11.

As we remember 9/11, some might think it wrong to ponder how and why we pay attention to human tragedy near and far. I’ve been thinking about how good and caring people notice suffering selectively — by proximity or race or religion and how and why we respond to some and not to others.

I think of who the innocent victims were in New York on 9/11 and how their loved ones have grieved. Then I think of the loved ones who survived each of the other tragedies listed…and how they grieved. A New York office worker crushed in concrete…a Honduran family drowned in mud…an Iraqi child riddled with shrapnel…a Californian widow joining Mothers against Drunk Driving.

On this anniversary of 9/11 (as I try to ignore the sick media circus of Quran-burning threats), I think of those who lost loved ones on that terrible day. And I also can’t help but think of a million poor Afghan refugees barefoot and cold in tents just over the Pakistan border as another winter sets in — collateral suffering with barely an army blanket of compassion tossed their way. It’s a thoughtful time…I hope.

This was my response as posted in his Facebook comments:

Tsunami, Earthquake, even dare I say Drunken Driving… these things are not events that happen because of the hatred of one person toward another. Natural disaster and poor judgment are not the same as premeditated murder. My father in law was on board flight 77. Someone deliberately plunged the aircraft he was on into the Pentagon. Proportionately we may have not suffered the quantity of loss as other tragedies, but to say we suffer more or less than another is, well for lack of a better word, hurtful. I don’t know that personal loss can or should be compared. I lost my mother to cancer. 11 weeks and she was gone. It was every bit as devastating and painful, but completely different. I hope for peace. I hope for cultural understanding. I hope for compassion for all who have grief and are suffering at the hand of terrorism. At this 9 year mark I hope we as Americans can move forward by eliminating fear mongering and imperialism and realize that while we suffer from the heinous loss of 9/11, our loss is not ranked on a scale of 1-10 among the other horrible loss of our fellow humankind, it is not harder or easier than theirs, it is instead something that makes us one and the same. We all share in the human experience and create community when we “get to carry each other.” There is nothing wrong with acknowledging a day where Americans suffered as our citizens were murdered, but in turn we need to also give the same to others who have suffered and not put our loss on a pedestal and question why it could have happened to us. It happens to all of us.

Thanks for letting me let off a little steam!  After all, we’re all in this together!