Pick a different number

Through my twenties and half-way through my thirties I was a piano teacher. This was long before I ever knew that my beliefs could be questioned. Before I realized that the stream of thoughts I heard in my head was something other than who I was

Long before I came to any sort of peace with my body, I was obsessed with my weight. I believed that Being Thin meant Being Happy. Thin meant Successful. Thin meant Perfect and Good and Loved. This belief was Truth to me. 

The two components of this belief/religion were:


  1. I should always weigh less than what I weighed.
  2. What I weighed said something about me, my life and my worth as a human being.


These Truths were reality to me. Not even once had I thought that I might be wrong or maybe a little misguided. It hadn't crossed my mind that a human could live a life without her correlating number on a scale. The idea of being at peace with the volume of space that my body occupied was not only foreign; it was completely unknown to me.

I remember being pulled aside by one of my piano-moms after I told her eight-year-old daughter that I was on a diet. The woman took me outside to her front porch and told me that I was never to speak something like this again in front of her daughter. That her daughter IDOLIZED me and that it was my responsibility to speak kindly about myself in front of little girls. God bless that woman (Thank you Catherine.) because she was the first person that made a dent in my systematic self-hatred.

It hadn't occurred to me that hating on my body had a second-hand-smoke issue with the the people around me. What she said made sense to me even though I didn't really know what to do with it.

The second thing I remember (and this is the one that I want to offer you today) was after my mom died and I had gained ten pounds and I was so disappointed with myself because I wasn't the Right Number. There was a Successful Number and then every number higher than that meant that I was a loser, lazy, horrible, and ugly.

It wasn't just an idle worry, it was a life-consuming fear of mine.

The number on the scale meant everything to me. I asked Krista (another piano mom) for advice. But I didn't really want advice on how to feel better, or how to be at peace with myself.  What I really wanted to know is why she was so skinny. I wanted to know her secret, her diet, her magic pill. I wanted to know anything that might help me attain a better number.

What she offered me was something that seemed ridiculous. And yet, I have never forgotten it. 

She said,

Pick a different number. The number was arbitrary in the first place and you seem to give it a lot of importance.

After I turned 30,

she said (she was like... 42 or some ancient age like that at the time)

I just decided to pick a different number. I had tried and tried to stay the number of my teens and twenties and I felt horrible all the time. And then I just decided to add 10 pounds to my number one day and see how I felt.

Of course I did not take her advice. It seemed risky and careless to just freaking add 10 pounds to my Desired Number - as if that, in and of itself, would make me blimp out two million pounds. Or make me give up. Or make me lazy. Or a loser forever.

But I never forgot her advice. And years later, I think about it all the time. 

Pick a different number.

Pick a different number when you look at your bank account and it doesn't match your idea of Success.

Pick a different number when you look at the kids in your family and wish you had more (or sometimes less.)

Pick a different number when you think the white-picket-fence dream was lost when you signed for divorce.

Pick a different number when you look at your Facebook likes, or your Instagram follows, or the emails in your inbox.

Every day we are confronted with numbers. And these numbers are meaningless without our attachment to them. Without our story about them. 

We have the choice to pick a different number. To choose how we feel about the number on the scale, the bank account, the bonus, the bounced check, the number of people in line ahead of us, or the number of people we've slept (or haven't slept) with, the number of marriages or miscarriages we've had, or the number of miles we have to go before we sleep.

These numbers were completely arbitrary in the first place. Without our story, they are just a bunch of sticks and circles.

We have the choice to pick a different number. A number that creates ease in our life. A number that allows for grace. A number that lets us inhale and exhale deeply.

A number that might even bring us a sense of peace.

Often, that number is One.

It's the number that reminds us that we are connected to one another. That what happens to you, happens to me too. It's the number that reminds us that my heart and your heart and her heart all beat to their own rhythms while we spin around on this massive ball of stardust and sea mist.

It's the number that reminds us that we are connected to God, to the hungry child in a shelter tonight, to the lady behind the DMV desk, to the brave soldier serving our country, to the lonely poet writing in her journal on the floor of her apartment.

It's the number that reminds us of what really matters. And who we really are.

And why we're really here.


Seasons Greetings.