Numbers

I’ve always loved math and growing up it was my favorite subject. This set me apart from a lot of people who found it to be daunting, but it was a subject I really enjoyed to no end. I think the reason that I loved it so much was that the answers and the numbers brought order to my sometimes chaotic world, or at least that was my perception of it. It also satisfied my need for the healthy dose of frustration that must be involved in any situation in order for it to be be truly enjoyable to me. Of course, I liked algebra best, but a close second was geometry. I especially loved doing geometric proofs, where you had to use logic and find the trail all the way to proving the theory. I loved math so much that sometimes, if I was stuck on a problem, I would go to bed early and the answer would actually come to me in my dreams. When I woke up, I would run down the creaky stairs of our old farmhouse and finish the problem no matter what time of night it was. Kind of weird, I know.

But I must say that in my adult life, numbers have not always had the same sense of order nor have they brought me the serenity that I found with them in the confines of a classroom. I was anxiously thinking about numbers all day because I have to complete an $11 million budget for 28 programs in the next 3-4 weeks. Did you see that? Three sets of numbers in one sentence, that combined feel like a chemistry experiment gone awry. And even though I have a long-standing love affair with numbers, today they don’t feel like my friend. Today they feel like a 400 pound gorilla that is locked in a cage with me.

I have learned throughout my life that numbers have power. In my own life, numbers have at times been elusive, they have sometimes let me down, they have been the occasional source of conflict, they have even been downright scary at times. As adults, we seem to attach numbers to just about everything, as though life has to be quantified in order for it to make sense to us. And yet in so doing, we all seem to be haunted by at least some of these numbers that we attach to our lives.

For some, it’s a high cholesterol reading that looms over one’s head, promising an early death. For another, it’s a dress size or number on the scale that chips away at their self-esteem. It may be the seemingly low balance in the checkbook that is believed to be holding them back from their dreams, dreams so far in the distance that they can’t see the greatness that is right in front of their eyes. For many, it is the rightful salary that is believed but never achieved. Some refuse to acknowledge the number of birthdays passed, as though it is a dirty secret never to be shared. Still others tally the number of sexual conquests to make themselves feel whole, but in so doing callously toss away part of their soul with every new addition. If you think about almost every major component of an adult life, you can attach a number to it in some way.

I can guarantee you that those very numbers have brought nearly all people disappointment or angst or full-blown panic attacks at one time or another. How many people do you know who think they will have found true happiness if only they could lose ten more pounds, make $20,000 more a year, take five years off their face through cosmetic surgery or get a car one model more expensive than their own? The world is filled with this kind of thinking, and yet as every goal is reached, a new one–with a new number–is just as achingly longed for. The number changes, and the promise of happiness remains as elusive as chasing a ghost or herding squirrels.

It has occurred to me that in the one place in life that matters the most, numbers don’t count. Our creator is not keeping score, and there is no real way to quantify one’s spirituality. In a spiritual sense, there is no magnitude or degree or severity or balance attached to love, regardless of the type of love it is. At the end of the day, love is love. And even though it has the capacity to grow, it has no numbers attached to it. It’s no wonder that love, in all its forms, is what everyone seeks for solitude and true fulfillment.

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