I am grateful for counting.
I count stairs when I’m climbing, steps when I’m walking, telephone poles when I’m running, calories burned when I’m tread-milling. It’s compulsive, I fear, and as hard as I try, it’s an unbreakable habit it seems. But as habits go, it’s not so bad.
Do you suppose everyone counts? Perhaps I should have taken a poll of idiosyncrasies and compiled a list of the top ten. The obvious are teeth grinding and nail biting, but there’s probably some other gems in the mix. I like to sit and watch people. I practice pretending not to watch because if I’m not careful my mouth drops open and my watching becomes staring. I mostly watch people standing in line. Some fidget and shift their weight; they have their order all ready, sitting at the tip of the tongue in the taxiway ready to launch. Others stare dreamily off into space and when the customer service specialist (which seems a rather grand title for slinging coffee) announces, “Next!” they look surprised. “Oh,” they say, hands on their chest as if they’ve just won something and then they search their brains for what they were about to order. There’s usually an ummm and a painfully long pause. These types haven’t exactly mastered the art of readiness. I’d like to slap these people if I were prone to such things. I am willing to bet they are not counters. They’ve never imagined the sound track in their head saying, “Houston, we have lift off.” While I find them disdainful, I also must confess I feel just a hint of envy for their lack of preparedness, as if they have all the time in the world and nothing is more important than they are in this particular moment, not the people waiting behind or the frazzled server-person. People like this think they will live forever, whereas I do not. Wasting time in the luxury of being poorly prepared seems … wasteful. I have the need to cram the living in when and while I can and counting seems to have my idle time well spent. You never know when someone might ask, “How many cracks do you step on in one city block?” Surely they mean without adjusting my step, because I’ve discovered, with a little effort, that I can avoid all the cracks given the standard size sidewalk. However, interlocking bricks fool with my strategy.
I know a family who decided to count to a million collectively, a bit like a tag team. They discovered it wasn’t easy and they didn’t make it past three hundred, thirty-eight thousand. I admire their effort, though it does seem a bit obsessive. Everything in moderation, my grandmother advised. I haven’t tried counting the stars or snowflakes, but I do count the number of drips from my kitchen tap before I have to get up and tighten it. Eleven, in case you were wondering.
When I am running up a hill and my lungs are considering collapsing I keep my head down and count to fifty. After fifty, I allow myself to look up and see how close the top of the hill is. The reasoning behind that is it seems manageable if I break the climb down into pieces. Actually, I like to break my whole day down into manageable pieces but that’s another story.
We start counting as children. Counting claps and bounces, stacking blocks and crayons, cheerios and smarties. If we are having a temper tantrum someone might suggest counting to ten before we hurl ourselves on to the floor to begin kicking our feet. So perhaps counting is a result of nurture rather than nature. Therefore, I’m not, as a matter of note, an anomaly. I’ve just clung to my youthful habit with a firmer grip. So, I think I’ll keep counting and using moisturizer. That should do the trick.