Early on in journalism, one learns the news value of a death. One death in your neighborhood equals 10 deaths in your city, which equals 100 deaths in the U.S., which equals 1,000 deaths in Europe, which equals 10,000 deaths in Africa.

The numbers can vary, but you get the point. It’s a practical rule.

For real life, however, I think the reciprocal is true: One person’s hurt can equal great suffering. If you’ve ever suffered a huge loss, you know what I’m saying. You’ve felt it.

This pearl of wisdom is not my own. I got it from the author Graham Greene. Sometimes, I whip it out when a loved one has shared his or her hurt, and then concludes, “But what right have I to complain? There’s so much greater suffering in the world.”

He writes this:

Suffering is not increased by numbers: one body can contain all the suffering the world can feel.

I first read that line on a flight from Asia back to the United States, in early 2006. I’d bought a copy of Graham Greene’s, “The Quiet American,” from a Vietnamese woman at Hoan Kiem Lake, in Hanoi.

The book remains one of my favorites, for it is filled with life gems like that.

A Buddhist woman prays at Hoan Kiem Lake, in Hanoi, Vietnam. January 2006 | Andrea James