I’ve been listening to a lot of alternative country lately; in particular, a guy called Tyler Childers.

I like his lyrics.

This is the first verse to his song ‘Coal’:

Well, God made coal for the men who sold their lives to West van Lear

And you keep on diggin’ ‘til you get down there, where it’s darker than your darkest fear

And that woman in the kitchen, she keeps on cookin’, but she ain’t had meat in years

Just live of bread and live off hope, and a pool of a million tears

(There’s some great rhetorical devices being used, which I had included right here until Minnie told me it broke the flow of the article. Then I said, ‘but I like it like that’ and made a sad face; then she said harrumph and something about giving everyone else feedback but not being able to take it myself… So, I’ve moved it to a footnote*.)

Which got me thinking, how big is a pool of a million tears?

Well, if we consider that there are about 20 drops in a millilitre of water, we need about 20,000 tears to make a litre. Which means that a million tears is only about 50 litres, which isn’t going to last you too long. (And it would be salty.)

Let’s say you can easily remove the salt.

It depends on your size, the climate and what you’re doing (I imagine working in a coal mine, you’d get pretty thirsty…), but supposedly an average man would need about 3.7 litres a day, and an average women 2.7. (This is from all sources, including food.)

If we round that up to 4 litres per day for a man, and 3 for a woman, and assuming they have no children, that pool of a million tears is going to only last them about a week. And that’s not even considering the water needed to make the bread and wash the dishes—let alone water needed to wash themselves and their clothes.

If they both lived to 90, and washed themselves, their clothes and their dishes in the creek, while drinking exclusively tears, they’d need a pool of 9,360,000,000 tears, give or take a few.

I’m guessing ‘nine-billion-three-hundred-and-sixty-million’ had too many syllables to work in that line, though.

And while that is a lot of tears, it’s not such a big number. At the time of writing, Bill Gates has more than 9 US dollars for each one of those tears.

But let’s not stop there.

If you wanted to hydrate every person on Earth for 90 years you’d need a pool of 351,000,000,000,000,000,000 tears. (That’s 351 quintillion.)

While that is indeed quite a few tears, there are approximately 20,000 times more stars in the universe.

I have no idea how God found the time to make coal for the men who sold their lives to West van Lear.


*Rhetorical devices include:

  • assonance in the first line between the words ‘coal’ and ‘sold’
  • what could be considered a kind of syllepsis (using the same word in different senses), in ‘darker than your darkest fear’
  • more assonance with the last syllables (and a partial rhyme) of ‘diggin’, ‘kitchen’ and ‘cookin’
  • an example of tricolon (well at least isocolon for the first 2 clauses) with ‘live off bread and live off hope and a pool of a million tears’.