We’re obsessed with numbers but couldn’t live without them.
Learning our ABCs and 1-2-3s-- both are major accomplishments for toddlers. What little ones haven't heard their moms say, “If you don’t stop that by the time I count to three?” We’ve counted ten little monkeys jumping on the bed so they’ll stop and not fall off and hurt their heads. From our earliest days, we’ve counted days until our birthdays, until Grandma comes to visit, until Christmas, until the crystal ball announced each New Year.
As we got older, we counted bottles of beer down from 99 — it depended how long the bus ride was as to how far down we got. We counted “until lift-offs” at Cape Canaveral. We mastered counting backwards.
Counting backfired on me one time. My husband was on the USS Coral Sea, an aircraft carrier. I had made a paper chain and every day we made a big deal of tearing off a link and counting the remaining days until daddy returned from his nine-month tour. But late one night, I heard on the radio that the USS Coral Sea, which had been headed to Alameda, CA, its home port, had been diverted back to the Arabian Sea. I pulled the chain down. Who knew when daddy would return? Later I learned he had participated in Operation Evening Light, an unsuccessful attempt to free the 63 Americans held hostage in Iran. Of course I didn’t tell the children, ages eight and two, of the possible dangers of the mission. I never wanted to count days or make a paper chain again.
Usually counting keeps us focused, whether it’s to the days until we graduate, or get married, or the rather unpredictable day of giving birth. Most of the time it’s counting toward something happy, but sometimes it’s the number of days until surgery or some other impending event. Sometimes it just passes the time; we count sheep.
How would knowing the day of our death affect us? “But of that day and hour no one knows,” (Matthew 24:36). Would we count down? I don’t think so. The end of life remains a mystery and counting is futile. However, I recently found this quote attributed to Muhammad Ali, who knew a lot about count downs, that could change our outlook: “Don’t count the days; make the days count.”