An old photo – and out of context – but it felt appropriate.
I’ve been asking E. for a week now, what do I do with all these numbers?
Two years ago a colleague lost a baby in childbirth. It seemed to me like something that rarely happens now. It should be a scenario documented in a black-and-white photo.
But I learned than an average of 30 stillbirths a year is normal in this town. In any town this size, in this country. Statistically.
I thought if that had been a headline in the paper: 30 Stillborn in Stavanger this Year, it would have been terrifying news. Our realities are limited by what we put our attention on. And I suppose we pay attention day-to-day to what our hearts can hold comfortably.
So what do I do with all these numbers – these past two weeks when I have had too much time at the computer to jump between tabs and read the news too many times a day to count.
I know how many people are on a respirator at the local hospital today. I have no idea what that number means. I have no idea how many were on them in December. A year ago today. Or if that is even relevant.
I look at a map of Europe and we are dark orange where Italy is red. The chart below compares countries and numbers. People, percentages.
I have no idea what to do with these numbers – not intellectually – not emotionally. How do I hold these numbers?
It’s like grabbing at fish. With the same ambivalence about actually getting your hands around one.
What now? What do I do with this?
I have an odd habit of counting. I think it is a kind of self-soothing. A form of meditation. Sometimes I notice it on long runs. There’s no melody drifting through my mind then: just counting. It makes no sense and sometimes I actually wonder if if is a self-soothing technique I picked up from Sesame Street.
Today is day 14. Which would be the end of a standard quarantine period here, but of course not the end for any of us now: 19 more days teaching from home, and working from home. Many are not working.
In 19 days, we will know more.
Maybe begin a new countdown.
But those are the numbers for the what-if. The take-care. Days as manageable degrees of separation from the normal.
For her now, unable to come home to us – and so for us, as well – the countdown is on hold while she waits for the infection to run its course through her roommate’s body. She can count the meals she leaves outside her roommate’s bedroom door.
Then the counting begins again: 9 days without symptoms. Then, another 14 days of quarantine because they share an apartment.
Temporal degrees of separation.
What do we do with this time now, counting backwards before we can start again?
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This was my favorite, “Our realities are limited by what we put our attention on.” I’m suddenly thinking of the movie, Along Came Polly. Ben Stiller’s character is a risk assessor for an insurance company. His heart is seemingly torn between two very different women, so he enters their statistics into a computer program called The Riskmaster. It’s supposed to determine who is the safest bet to insure or entrust your future with. It’s hilarious because the one thing we know for sure is, there are no guarantees. But I think common sense is helpful.
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