Wretched numbers

Today’s numbers are high. Those wretched numbers. In this season it feels like our lives are oppressed by numbers. Amidst this virus, we’ve come to live and breathe by a daily tally of dread: when the numbers are up we’re stuffed and when they’re down we’re good. It’s all a bit crazy-making. It’s like riding a roller coaster but without the rush. Just the fear.

Some say these numbers don’t matter, religious people who prod us to look beyond them to ‘higher’ truths. “Nothing more than digits on a screen!” one declared today on social media. Yet the arrangement of these digits represents things grave and important. Like it or not, these numbers are us. We hang onto them because we need to know and understand. We are desperate for measurable indicators of how we are and how worried we should be together.

Of course, I hate these numbers. I hate what they are doing to us, what they’re doing to my city. I hate their impact on those who are vulnerable and those exhausted by care and responsibility. I hate what they’re doing to those I love. But I can’t ignore them; nor can I relativize them.

I might tell myself, hey, our numbers are not as bad as such-and-such. But it’s no help. Anxiety is not relative. My friend who is out of work, without a visa and any form of support, can’t pay the rent or feed his family. My neighbour’s dear husband is hospitalized and she cannot visit him — she fears a funeral with her son far away. My barista sheds tears of weariness and despair. I would never tell these people about such-and-such as though that addresses their pain. So why do I expect it to ease mine?

The truth is, as a person of faith I can say with certainty that these numbers matter. They do. Because they speak of deeper things. They speak of lives cherished, neighbourhoods and communities that are precious, a city that is alive and beautiful and struggling. Why on earth, according to our holy texts, would God be concerned with the number of hairs upon your head? The number of days that you might live? The number of stars that fill the night sky or grains of sand that line the oceans? Because God is invested in this world and in you. Because whatever brings pain into your life and the lives of those around you is held in the tenderness of God’s hands.

Believe me, if these numbers matter to us, we can be sure they matter to God.

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