I don’t know where my love of numbers came from. It certainly didn’t come from a love of maths. As a kid, I was good at maths but as the result of a long, hard slog. It never came naturally and even now, mental maths sends me into a mild panic. But counting things? That came so naturally that I barely noticed it happening.
I know how many steps I’ve taken today. I know how many books I’ve read this year. I know how many years it will take me to pay off my student loan.
All good things to know.
I also know that if I get to my bus stop by 5:15, I’ll probably get home by 6. I know that if the traffic is heavy and the bus doesn’t round a certain corner by 5:30, I probably won’t. Sometimes, if it’s close and I’m not sure whether the bus will make the corner, my heart starts to pound. I panic, just a little. That two minute space between “before 6” and “after 6” becomes huge and important.
I know how much money I’d need to retire right now and how many years it would take me to save it at my current rate – about 300.
Sometimes I find myself counting steps or seconds, just because.
If Niall goes back to Ireland to stay with his family, it’s more than likely that I know how many hours it’ll be before he walks back through the door. I refresh the airport arrivals page, I check train times, I memorize bus routes. I miss him when he’s gone, of course, but more than that, I just want to know.
Whether I’m working on a manuscript for National Novel Writing Month or watching my fundraising total for Race for Life rise, monitoring graphs, hitting targets and working out averages fills me with utter glee. And I don’t think I’m the only one. People are using Fitbits to count their steps and track their sleep. They’re downloading apps which log how much water they’ve drunk and sprout cartoon flowers accordingly. An iPhone is an information lover’s dream, crunching the random strings of numbers that make up our day to day lives and spitting out graphs and charts that we peer at, hoping they’ll reveal some larger truth to us.
Because that’s what it’s all about, really. If I can count things, if I can quantify them, then I can understand them. And if I can understand them, maybe I can control them. I remember my maths teacher taking great delight in my love for Sudoku puzzles but puzzles aren’t really about numbers at all. They’re about order. They’re about logical, discernible patterns. The knowledge that if you follow the rightt steps, you will reach a neat, satisfying, correct conclusion.
I’ve always liked to know things. I’m sure my parents still have traumatic flashbacks of that trademark children’s refrain – But why? I’ve never liked being unsure. Being twenty-four years old and not really knowing what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, in a time where it feels like the world is spiraling ever further out of control, I think I crave that comforting sense of completion that comes at the end of a riddle. Of course I know that there’s no blueprint to life, no magic formula that leads to happiness. Logically, I know this. But still I crunch my little numbers, hoping that if I think hard enough or look at them in a certain way, the pattern will reveal itself. The world is vast and pregnant with possibilities, every one more unpredictable than the last. Sometimes things happen for no reason at all. Sometimes things are bitterly unfair. Sometimes you try your very hardest and it doesn’t work out anyway. I’m not religious, but I understand why many people are. Religion is a pattern of its own, assuring people that somewhere, someone has a larger plan. That it’ll all be okay. That people will get what they deserve, good or bad, in the end. Some people have God. I have numbers.