Life in Numbers

The great thing about math is that it can quantify the intangibles. Taking that practice to an extreme, a person’s life can be simplified and expressed in all kinds of numbers.

The most common measure is age: how old we are. Typically expressed in number of years but there is no reason why it can not be in months or even minutes to make us feel more significant. I have not run into ageism professionally yet but I expect less professional opportunities in a decade. I’ll deal with that when I get there. All online dating apps ask for age. With online dating, I can’t help but look for the very basics: age, height, and weight, like I am a five year old. As superficial as these numbers, they make it easier to take the first step to get to know someone new.

From a more practical view, we are often associated with some dollar amounts: net worth, debts, credits, unrealized gain, or annual salaries. Unless famous, these are usually numbers that we judge ourselves in private. Sometimes harshly. They show how successful we are and how far we still have to go. Recently, I was introduced to a new number: my retirement target based on the life style that I want to maintain after I stop working. I did not look into the actual calculation but the target seems taunting and impossible. I was told, time is my friend!

The number of kids is important after we get married. The parents are always counting teams. There are two of us and one of her. Should be fine! Or, we are having a third and will soon be outnumbered! Behind the kids, it’s about number of hours of sleep, play dates this weekend, and trips to the ER. Behind the number, it’s one of the most important responsibilities we can have. I don’t pretend to know all the hard work that goes with raising kids and have the upmost respect to parents around me.

With social media, we have numbers of friends and followers counted for us at all times. I had talked to my dad about this number and he reacted in disbelieve. However, the contact list for my holiday card, the guest list for my future wedding, and the girls at my dinner dates include tighter groups of people who I don’t mind being embarrassed in front of and I can pour my heart out on my most recently blind date. Yeah, you may not want to be part of this. This number is definitely a fuzzy one and not one to be taken too seriously in my opinion.

Health wise, number of steps has become such a common measure enabled by all kinds of new trackers. Even kids know that 10,000 steps is the daily recommendation. Less common is the number of pills taken daily. I realize the importance of this measure from my 96-year-old grandmother and 70-something dad. I remember seeing my grandmother arranging her pill box with such caution and precision. Dad counts the pill every morning and night. Embedded in these pills is the hope that he will continue to live healthily. Right now, I take one before I go to bed, but one day, I’ll get to where he is too.

Number has no judgement but people do.

For my brain disease, a key measure is number of hospital stays. I was at McLean hospital for two weeks. Many people, patients like me, I met there had more. A common goal for us is to stay out of the hospitals. Going to hospital is not seen as having a major stroke and needing medical attention, but as trouble escalating out of control, going through the system often, the resolving door. When I was in the day program at McLean, I asked my doctor how I can go back if I wanted to. He said, no, I can’t just go back. I would need to be admitted. To me honest, I have adopted to that thinking now. My goal is to stay out of (mental) hospitals, right or wrong.

Finally, I have a different kind of number in mind for life: number of pages. Imagine we can all put our life in words in books. What would our books say? Is our life eventful? Are we wordy or concise? What would we include or leave out?

Numbers has no judgement but people do. The simplicity and accessibly of them should not be the only way we see each other. What’s important about age is the life events that happened during that time. What’s important about number of pages is the story in the book. Let’s be curious beyond simple numbers. Let’s be kind to each other.

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