Ann Keiffer

The Arithmetic of Suffering

Over 500,000 homes destroyed,
more than 30,000 people
dead or injured in the 2015
earthquake in Nepal.
Such monolithic numbers
block the view
of the individual lives,
the toll and tally in ones.
I am one, any one of them.
Yet I live, housed, unfazed.

16.7 million
refugees worldwide,
staggering on the road;
dying in make-shift boats;
abandoned in the jungle;
hopeless and vulnerable
in plastic-sheet shelters
in refugee camps,
the monolithic numbers
obscuring the reality
of misery’s tally in ones,
all ones, each refugee, one,
one mother suffering,
one sister, brother,
husband or child suffering,
I am one, my mother,
my sister, my brother,
my child, my husband,
all ones. But we are in
our homes, safe, warm,
gathered together, fed.

40 million children
in harm’s way, living
stunned in the trenches
of their everyday lives.
Children with PTSD.
Sirens, helicopters,
fighter jets, bullets,
machetes, land mines,
murder in the street,
abuser down the hall,
moms gone, dads gone,
friends gone, family gone,
glue-fumes, bindles,
H, crack, speed, oxy,
alcohol, empty bellies,
empty eyes, empty lives–
despair common
as cockroaches.
40 million children.
A monolith beyond
Comprised of ones.
I am one,
any one of them.
Any child I love,
any one of them.
But we sleep peacefully
under our comforters,
dreaming of waffles
and new tech toys.

I cannot bear the thought,
the weight, of these
suffering millions.
The monolith crushes me.
But I can carry
in consciousness
the ones,
the ones
in the midst of the
beauty, plenty and safety
of my everyday life.
And I can reach out to
the ones
who are within my reach,
the ones
whose needs I can help
to meet with exactly
the gifts I have been
given to give.
I have begun to think of this
as the arithmetic of suffering:
When the sum is too high,
you carry the ones.

Ann Keiffer
June, 2015

Earthquake statistics:
United Nations 

Refugees worldwide:
United Nations Refugee Agency

Children in harm’s way:

Image Credit:



About Ann

I am interested in the strange beauty of brokenness, in transforming possibility in difficult times, in how we heal even when we can’t get better, in the alchemy of surrender, in the interplay of light and shadow, in the bounty of everyday wonders, in the gift of laughter…and writing about it, all and everything.

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