I have exactly fifteen minutes before the kids trickle in the door, one by one, with shoulder-slung bags and algebra-weary faces. It’s funny how numbers can write themselves across our skin, and we sag and crumple under the weight of them.
I know a family, a veteran and his wife, saddled with medical bills and car troubles and an unexpected, difficult pregnancy. No doubt, they count the years of his service. They count the monthly means that never seem to add up, always more month than money.
My mother in law counts the years her husband has been gone. My sister, the years she’s lived away from her city. My parents the hours they work, the grandkids they miss. We’re all counting something. We’re all marking time or money or the number of ways we succeed or fail.
I adventured in the big city last week, attending an open house at a university and later, a conference on “Women and Calling”. The numbers that were thrown at me made my shoulders sag and my heart crumple. The cost of a graduate education, the number of students they don’t allow in, the hours it takes to get there, the tick, tick, tick of time spent away from my kids. And then the conference: the number of times I hopped the wrong train (one, if you must know), the steady rise of my tricked-out heartbeat, the new friends I met, the countless times I wondered what in Heaven’s name I was doing there among women who are actively changing the world for Christ.
My husband tells me not to be ruled by the numbers. But, I inwardly wilt when I calculate the years my children might need therapy if I decide to pursue school, writing, or this fuzzy, indistinct call. How many years have I wasted? Can I afford to spend my years in this way any more?
Fear takes the form of numbers when I see an impending fork in the road. I am Robert Frost facing his yellow wood, and everything in me wants to take the road most traveled, the clearly marked one, where fear lurks in the bushes, but doesn’t reach for my hand along the way. And yet, there are whispers of another way. One that might require me to grasp hands with fear, and make peace with the numbers. One that follows Mr. Frost down his lonely path of the less traveled. Who knows? It might make all the difference.
What numbers weigh you down? What are you counting?