Numbers dictate much of the coming and going of our lives. Alarm clocks ring us awake at specific, preset hours of the day. We log commute minutes to later commiserate and compare with friends over. We start work, break for lunch, and head home for the day within specific time intervals between which we gaze at clock minute hands, wishing them swiftly onward. Some of us keep track of the numbers we pump at the gym, some of us keep track of the numbers of our nurishment. Some of us critically compare the hourly or salary wage we are given–it seems no amount suitably credits the talents and abilities we offer. Numbers creep into our social interactions, dictate our anxiety levels, and contribute to our productivity, activity, and self worth values. The interplay between numerical values is fascinating. There is a comforting element in realizing the definite solution to each addition, subtraction, multiplication and division equation. We plug-in and manipulate pieces of our lives-our environments, external supports, personal characteristics- into equations, hoping the absolute of mathematics can discover the perfect timetable for happiness, effectiveness, efficiency, perfection. Numbers give us a false sense of control.
My life was consumed with numbers for several years. The sense of security and peace juxtaposed with the anxiety and maladaptive thought patterns the numbers I obsessed over gave me made sense in my brain. I lived in shattering glass box with an illusion of health, control, freedom. It took years for the pieces of glass the reassemble, for the veil to be lifted and for me to believe real was real, fake was fake, and the numbers were nothing more than a dangerous, vile game. Last year when I signed up for the marathon, I experienced some fear over whether my old obsessive habits would once again appear. I put specific checkpoints on myself as safeguards against history repeating itself–I ran less, ate more, and participated in many things outside of training. No matter what I did however, numbers crept back into my thought patterns. Numbers motivated me in training, numbers were frequently exchanged in conversations I had with family, friends, strangers. Numbers were back in my life. This time however, the numbers I concerned myself with were detached from my physical performance or physicality. 78.3 million people do not have access to clean water. 443 million school days are lost each year due to water-related illnesses. Over half of primary schools in developing countries do not have access to water or sanitation facilities, most girls drop out at puberty due to embarrassment. These numbers are just as dangerous, just as vile as the numbers previously consuming my consciousness. The difference however, is that these numbers are REAL. Glassboxes are shattered when water sources grow contaminated–entire villages shrink as dehydration, disease and death plague their worlds. 1/2 of children under the age of 5 years worldwide die from lack of clean water. I want nothing more than to shrink these numbers into nonexistent decimals where X in fact, equals 0.
Before I finish, I will say I believe numbers in moderation are a beneficial thing. I get excited when I finish an awesome run or go up in weights at the gym. It feels fantastic when I wake up early and get things done–but I also have three separate alarms and fully appreciate the “snooze” button for days when getting things done are not my sleepy brain’s priority. I try and monitor how many glasses of water I drink each day, ensuring I am hydrated enough to run in that summer sun. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a goal time for the marathon–I have three actually–one for a bad race day, one for an okay race day, and one for the best race day. However, my lifestyle supports a much more flexible and detached stance on numbers and I no longer look to personal numbers for security, confidence, self-esteem. The numbers suffering worldwide from lack of clean water however are numbers I cannot separate myself from, I can’t accept in moderation. So I’m gonna go get my training run in on this beautiful 4th of July day–because I am grateful to live in a nation of freedom, clean water and snooze buttons…and because I am determined to help ensure ALL individuals have access to clean water. Peace, love, and watermelon.