As far back as I can remember, I have been fascinated by numbers. I add, subtract, multiply and divide, do square roots and other complex calculations, all in my head and without the aid of any visual cues (including in my imagination, because I suffer from aphantasia, the inability to bring my thoughts to life in visual form). I find it both easy and delightful to play with numbers, to see relations between them and even within them. (The last four digits of my phone number are 3470, which, to my mind, is easy to memorize not only because 3 + 4 = 7, but because 34 x 2 + 2 = 70.)
And so, as I write these words on my birthday (easy to remember, because I was born on May 17, 1968, and 5 + 1 = 6 and 1 + 7 = 8), I find myself slicing and dicing my life, because my age is 54, which is divisible by 9 (because 5 + 4 = 9), which means it’s also divisible by 3, and, because it’s an even number, divisible by 2 (so also divisible by 6).
I was 18 years old (one-third of my age now) and in my freshman year at Michigan State when I had a crisis of faith and left the Church for four weeks, before being drawn back on the eve of the First Sunday in Advent by the reality of the Eucharist. As my faith has ebbed and grown over the past 36 years (two-thirds of 54), one thing has remained constant: The Eucharist has been the center of my faith, the touchpoint that pulls me back when the work and the worries and the cares and concerns of my life pull me away.
The toughest crossroads of my life became the moments of greatest peace, so long as I didn’t try to navigate them on my own, but walked through the door of a church and knelt before Christ truly present in the tabernacle. I had — and have — many faults and failings, but the common thread that has enabled me to battle them all and to overcome some is the desire never to be separated from the Body of Christ, which has brought me back again and again to the sacrament of confession.
Twenty-seven years ago this month, five days before my birthday, I became a father for the first time, and the blessing of the children who followed, eight in all, has changed the second half of my life thus far in indelible ways and made me desire to become a better man — which has brought me again and again back before the tabernacle. I have been far from a perfect father (perhaps a slightly better husband), and as I enter today on what may be the final third of my life (my paternal grandfather died at the age of 81: 54 + 27), I look back now on all that I wish I had done differently, for the sake of my children especially. But while life is full of significant numbers, it isn’t an equation to be solved, but a path to be walked, and an essential part of growing in grace and wisdom is coming to recognize that we must take responsibility not only for where we are going but for where — and for who — we have been.
I take comfort in the knowledge that God is not bound by mathematics, that he can take the 2 + 2 of my life (and even sometimes the 2 – 2) and make it 5 or 10 or even on occasion 100 — not because of my worthiness or my actions, but in spite of them. That’s a higher order of math, something I cannot do in my head, but for which I can and do count myself blessed.
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.
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