Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year 2005

I took some time off during the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday period to concentrate on family, painting, and business. And now, here it is, a brand new year. I love New Year's Day! The year stretches in front of me like a wonderful, mysterious present waiting to unfold.

My New Year's Day activities, just now, did fall into the slightly absurd. I seldom "surf the net" because spending so much time at a desk and computer as is required to put together books, tends to make me want to stretch my legs and arms and look into the distance when I can, rather than spend even more time online. But, this gray Ohio day, well-rested, sons now returned to their homes, all signs of leftover holiday food gone...the Christmas tree giving one last hurrah as it gives a sideways glance at the empty ornament box on the dining room floor... I decided to look up statistics on the Internet. Yes, my friends, this is what curious minds do when they have too much time on their hands...

Having overdosed on CNN/Fox News Asian Tsunami coverage this week (I learned on 9/11 how many times I can watch videotaped tragedy without breaking down into a useless mess)... I started thinking about my recent fear of flying (in the literal sense, no sexual allusions, or illusions, intended, honestly), and I also started thinking about how one can comprehend approximately 150,000 people dying in Asia the day after Christmas. How to get a real handle on that number....

When I was a college student, one of the art instructors had us do an assignment where we were required to depict 1000 of something, anything. The concept of 1000. At that time I thought it was a big number.

This holiday season I took up crochet, again. Carpel-tunnel syndrome healed, I grabbed a hook, some yarn and proceeded to make scarf after scarf for friends and family. One stitch at a time; thousands of stiches...

How many is 150,000? How does that compare? What is the real risk of death by plane crash?

These questions were also precipitated by the retirement of Tom Brokaw. Just watch while I connect Tsunami, crocheting, my college art class, and the retirement of Brokaw...

When Brokaw's retirement was announced there was a TV special recapping his career highlights. It read like a brief history of world events during my lifetime: Civil Rights movement, women's movement, deaths at Kent State, Vietnam, Challenger Accident, space shuttle accident, 9/11, AIDS, Gulf War, IRaq War, Lockerbie jet crash, etc. etc... So, I decided to look up the statistics on "big things that have scared the hell out of me."

Here's what I found:
AIDS related deaths, worldwide (1982 - 2000) 21,800,000
Annual deaths due to HUNGER: 8,000,000
Annual deaths attributed to smoking (2000): 5,000,000
Deaths in Rwanda from 1994 - 1995: 937,000
Deaths in the Civil War: 620,000
Annual cancer deaths in the US: 556,500
Deaths attributed to Idi Amin in Uganda: 300,000
Estimated Asian Tsunami deaths: 150,000
Annual deaths due to car accidents (1999): 41,6111
Annual drunk-driving related deaths (2002) 17,419
Annual US deaths by murder (2000): 15,517
Deaths due to the troubles in Northern Ireland (1969 - 1994) 3,225
Deaths on 9/11/2001: 2,996
Deaths by plane crash (1/82-3/01): 2,301
Annual deaths by women from childbirth (2001): 399
Pan Am Flight 103, Lockerbie: 270
Deaths in Oklahoma City bombing: 168

I've found there is no correlation between number of deaths and amount of fear and distress I feel when considering my personal risk. There are way more deaths per year from auto accidents than all deaths since 1982 from plane crashes. So, why am I more afraid to fly to Florida than to drive to Columbus? And what does it say about human beings that 8 MILLION people die every year from hunger...? And 5 MILLION from smoking related causes?

Perhaps my New Year's Resolution will be to more accurately count my blessings, face my fears, and compassionately remember those folks who might seem like "just a number" but really are so much more...