Emotions and the Number Twenty

Twenty, the calendar says. Just twenty.
How? It used to be so many?

I keep thinking about how badly I want to go. I want to get started with my new life abroad. I want to get lost by the beautiful Bodensee. I want to twist my tongue around another new language. I have come so far, and now there are so few days. It is exciting.

I daydream about my new life. New life, next step in life? I don’t know. I feel like nearly everything will change once that magic number of twenty becomes zero. No, when it becomes negative one, because I have an overnight flight.

And thus, my life reverts back to numbers. Twenty days, day negative one is the big change, two years as an expat, and some finite variable of days left on this planet. Ever since I remember, numbers have been an important part of my life. Countdowns, figuring out how the numerical representation of important days are related, weighing how important numbers attached to different life events are….

So then, what is the weight of the number twenty? I have so little time left at “home,” this little piece of Missouri I’ve visited since a child, and now use as my permanent address. The walls may crumble further before I return. My family members may experience success that I cannot celebrate with them.

But also, some other cherished people may pass away. These twenty may be our last. It may be the last that everything is as it was. It may be the last that I see friends as we drift apart. It may be the last my favorite places exist, as development moves in.

Twenty, the calendar says. Just twenty.
It feels so empty.

But then, there are some numbers that remind me why I am doing this. First, there is two, for the two little boys in Oaxaca, whose lives are so different but the miles between them are so few. Meeting these little boys, and their grandmothers, gives me purpose.

Then, there is four million, the number of Syrian refugees who have fled their country as a result of the civil war that began in 2011. It’s a big number, and it’s disheartening. When I think about numbers like this, I think, “Will anything I do with these Master’s studies actually impact any of those four million?” Maybe, just maybe, it could. That promise gives me purpose.

I can still remember the day that Steve Grande, one of my favorite people in the whole world, told us (Spencer Center student workers) the story about the starfish. A man walking on a beach, throwing star fish back into the ocean so they could live, was asked, “Why do you bother? It doesn’t matter. You cannot possibly save all the starfish that wash up on the beach. You are but one person.” As the man threw another starfish back into the ocean, he replied, “It mattered to that one.”

That brings me to the number one. It’s so amazing that it is the first positive integer, that it is the multiplicative identity, and the most elusive but common answer in my past math classes.  However, most importantly, it is a powerful number for humanity. Mathematics aside, it only takes one life changed for the better for everything to be worth it.

But one is also important for me. I am also one who needs to do this. Investing in my education is a great gift. Pursuing an amazing education is what makes me happy and is the one thing is life I have consistently wanted. Moving to Germany will be an enriching experience. Being at the heart of Europe where a migrant crisis is occurring, multiple economic crises are occurring, and the most developed nations on the planet are working through diplomatic negotiations and moral dilemmas… That’s priceless for my education.

Twenty, the calendar says. Just twenty.
I now realize, it’s plenty.

You see, a lot of bad things can happen while I’m gone. I can miss a lot. However, the truth is that we all knew I’d never stay in this town, and that I’d never stay in Missouri. A few weeks ago someone who has known me since I was in high school told me that I was meant for much bigger things than this little town, and everyone always knew it. I’m still not sure what to make of that, but her statement, coupled with the countless people who doubt I will return to the country makes me think, “Well, I must be doing something right, something I was meant for.”

I have things I need to achieve. Yeah, I don’t know exactly what, or how, but there are things I need to do in places that aren’t here. I can’t sit around here waiting for it to pop out of the rose bushes. I’ve got to get out there, sleep in unfamiliar places, travel on confusing trains, take terrifying classes, get cussed out in German and every other language for being a stupid American, and get lost again.

Twenty, the calendar says. Just twenty.


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