I wish I had asked that question of my first grade teacher. Instead, another question hurled out of my small form while Sister Bernita was busy writing multiplication tables on the blackboard: “But, but, but. . . What is a number?“ Genuinely puzzled, internally roiling, I had blurted the question without thinking, without even raising my hand! Out of turn. Against the law.
Sister Bernita turned from the blackboard and stared at me, long and hard. My classmates turned round too, and stared. Face flushed, embarrassed, deeply ashamed, I froze like a hare in the headlights.
Finally she responded: “That is not a question, dear.”
Are numbers alive? is probably not a question either. At least not to her, or to others whose world has been shut in to some kind of box, beyond which they dare not venture.
Her flat statement reverberated through my small form. I shut down, terrified of mathematics, that floating world, not to open again for nearly 20 years.
And now I do ask, Are numbers alive? Especially the mysterious number nine.
And guess what? 2016 adds up to a 9. This year, 2016, is a completion year, a finality. Next year, 2017, we begin again — somehow.
As all the deeply buried, denied, ugly gunk from both our personal and our collective unconsciousness continues to rise up and disgorge itself on the surface, let us continue to honor and release the gunk, bid it farewell, pray and prepare for renewal.