It’s a clumsy title, I know. But triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number thirteen) is a bona fide reality for some individuals and communities. Building floors jump from eleven to twelve; city streets avoid a 13th avenue; and even Judas Iscariot, betrayer of Jesus, was believed to be the 13th apostle. But my intention with this post wasn’t to discuss fears but to consider how numbers in general can overwhelm, but also empower, our lives.
I’ve tried to resist writing about the pandemic, but at the same time felt overwhelmed by how it has saturated every aspect of our lives with virtual meetings, socials, and even playgroups. As a somber footnote, today marks eight months since the COVID-19 epidemic impacted our school and the U.S. as a whole (coincidentally enough also on Friday the 13th). It was a time of panic and concern about the unknown with so many asking “what’s next?”; in many painfully obvious ways, not much has changed. The number of cases continue to rise as do hospitalizations and deaths from a virus that is indifferent to the destructive path it carves out. At one point 20,000 daily cases felt overwhelming, yet as I write this this we have eclipsed 140,000 daily cases in the U.S. While we know a majority of those who contract the illness will recover there is the lingering mental and economic impact that will likely last for sometime. Simply put, numbers weigh on our shoulders like wet cement, slowly wearing us down while collapsing the very social structures we rely upon.
There is a point where we cognitively disassociate with reality because of this exponential increase; we have no choice. By way of an example, global poverty is expected to rise for the first time in twenty years because of the compounding issues surrounding the pandemic. Still, it is easier to think about the fact that 1 out of 10 people live in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $2/day) rather than trying to fathom 700 million people. How do you begin to help, or even think about that kind of number? (Spoiler: you can’t). We are not wired to process suffering of that magnitude. At its best, we express concern; at its worst, we become numb.
But there is a number that should represent an antidote to these worries: one. One community. One family. One hope. We rightfully recall specific dates like birthdays and anniversaries and recall them with joy and excitement. In the aftermath of a presidential election, we can call to mind the traditional motto, E Pluribus Unum, “one out of many.” That even among our struggles, differences, and sometimes competing interests, we are unified in some way. We can help one family member overcome struggle. We can save one person from having a bad day. We can model the Corporal Works of Mercy each day in a way that does not overwhelm us or others. One is a number that we can process, that we can make work. Solidarity embodies the number one. That notion of unifying ourselves together can only improve our outlook on life. It won’t magically make pain and suffering dissipate, but it will allow us the mental room to stop and be mindful about the next step in our journey.
It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!