You Learn Something New And Depressing Every DayCommentary • Opinion • news media • africa • ISSUE 40•21 • May 26, 2004 By Bill Merkert Bill Merkert Hey, did you know that more than 14 million African children have been orphaned because of AIDS? Fourteen million. That's roughly equivalent to the number of all the children under the age of 5 in America. Holy Schmidt, right?! I had no idea this was the case until I saw a news report about the African AIDS epidemic last night. I guess it just goes to show you: No matter how much you think you know, there are always more bleak facts out there, waiting for you to discover them! You could live to be 100, and you would never stop learning terrible things. All you have to do is pay attention, and you'll be surprised by another tragic reality. Yesterday, I read on the Internet that 3,000 people die from malaria every day. Fancy that. Three thousand people die, day in and day out, from a disease we have a cure for. Boy, I tell you it's true: You learn something new and depressing every day. You don't even have to look as far as Africa for fresh disheartening information. There's an endless supply of horrifying things you can discover in your own backyard. Try this on for size: For the past couple of years, I've seen this homeless guy sleeping on the street grate right by my office. I used to toss him some change now and again. Well, last month, it hit me that I hadn't seen him around for a while, so I asked a police officer about him. Turns out the poor sucker died of hypothermia during the winter. Right there on the grate! He was younger than I am, and now he's dead. Who'da thunk? I had my 60th birthday over the weekend, and I feel like I still don't know one-thousandth of the horrifying things there are to know. There are countless novel ways for the world to crush a spirit, an ideal, or a limb. Just open your ears and listen to the people around you. I'm positive you'll come into contact with some fresh instance of human sorrow. Throughout the world, there's an unyielding, pervasive desperation. If only you'd take a minute, you'd see it. While we learn a lot from our friends and the world around us, our families often have the most to teach us. Just recently, my aunt told me how incredibly lonely my mother was in the months before she died. My sister and I were both in college, caught up in our own lives at the time. We never knew that Mom would sit in her empty house, watch daytime television, and weep because she missed my father so much. That little nugget of info was a real head-slapper! Live and learn, as they sayanother day, another glimpse into the void that is human existence. After living for more than a half-century, you'd think I'd know all the disheartening information there is to know. Far from it! I read in the paper that roughly one in three women have been raped or violently sexually assaulted. I couldn't believe it, so I did an informal survey of the women I work with. Sure enough! Turns out that statistic was just about right! Never assume that you know it all, because there's literally an endless stream of monumentally sad things to discover. We haven't even talked about all the people who have, just today, been mugged or beaten or hit by cars or had their arms torn off or their kids die. Gosh, it's a big old world! After six decades of walking this earth, I'm pleasantly surprised that I can still be shocked by all the different little strands that make up the tapestry of human sorrow. The more dreadful things I come to terms with, the more troubling things I discover to take their place. I just heard that one of my former coworkers killed herself last month! Apparently, you can off yourself by drinking Pine-Sol. You see, I didn't know that. But now I do. And now you do, too, I suppose. Hopelessness springs eternal!