Portrait of an Older Gentleman

The first thing I notice when he enters the room is his smell. Not a bad one, per se – it’s powdery and reminds me of Sunday afternoons at my grandparents’ house years ago. He smiles at me and says my name with care, holding his laptop in one hand and closing the door with the other.

“Hi Mohan,” I reply, returning the grin as he enters the room. He sets his things down and takes a seat, moving slowly but deliberately. There’s small talk for a second as we enter the virtual meeting we have set up so that he can teach me how to analyze data for a customer.

The man sitting across the table is no doubt three times my age, but he’s doing what I’m doing, working where I’m working, using the same tools as I do. He knows his way around the computer rather well, and though he types slowly, there’s a lot of thought and meaning behind each word. He takes his time explaining things to me, and while I’m inclined to lose my patience or my fast-paced train of thought in between his, I use the time instead to marvel instead at who this man was and who he is today.

In many ways it could be hard for us to relate to each other: me, a “millennial”, and a man who grew up (what seems like) forever ago.┬áBut we connect in a deep way. Instead of becoming impatient with my occasional lack of focus, he talks to me like I’m his granddaughter, and I appreciate that. There’s a certain level of comfort in this man with┬álarge glasses and white eyelashes. His kindness, while different from everyone else’s, is sincere, warm, and very welcome.

I wonder what it’s like for him. He comes to work every morning just like I do, but his life outside the office is drastically different. He mentioned to me last week that his roommate from college was dying from cancer – it must be unbearably hard to watch your friends start to die around you.

I want to be his friend, his surrogate granddaughter who goes to him for advice, help, or just to talk over a cup of tea. He mentioned that he’s more than happy to write me an evaluation for work if I ever need it – I wish I could do something for him.

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Numbers

As an engineer, my life is filled with numbers. How fast is this moving? How much force does it have on it? What’s the amount of the electric field around it? Calculate, calculate, calculate… punch buttons, hit “Enter,” get an answer.

But numbers… what value do they have in life?

Numbers really don’t tell you anything in the grand scheme of things.

Like sure, I’m nineteen years, eight months, and three days old. I have been in school for almost three-quarters of my life, minus summer vacations and weekends (so really, it comes out to about thirty-eight percent of my time). My boyfriend and I have been dating for four hundred and fifty-two days, but we had been friends for three months and half a week (roughly) before that. I have four siblings – two sisters and two brothers. I moved into my current apartment seven months and twenty-five days ago.

But what does any of this tell you about me as a person?

It doesn’t tell you anything.

We quantify so much of our lives using these digits, but they don’t say anything about who we are. That’s really why I’m here now – to share who I am and how I live, and to discover things for myself. Because quite honestly, life isn’t about plugging numbers into a machine and seeing the result. Our day-to-day lives are not the results of a formula – no, they’re much messier than that. If it were that easy, then everyone really could figure out the “key” to happiness and success, and no one would be different. What kind of life would that be?

As much as I believe this is true – that numbers aren’t everything – it’s sometimes difficult to remember it. Since so much is based on numbers, it’s hard to believe that I’m not a statistic and that it’s okay to be different and stray from the “norm” sometimes. While it’s common knowledge that everyone grows and learns at their own pace, it’s not so easy to really feel that it’s right to.

Let’s take my age for example. Nineteen years – that’s old enough to drive a car and buy a lottery ticket, but I still have to wait a year and a couple months until I can drink legally. But just because I fit the quota with my age does not mean that I should still be allowed to do some of these things. The number’s the answer, but the question really should be, “Am I mature enough to do this?”

And then there is the amount of time you should wait for something: “Give it a week, it’ll blow over.” “Wait a month, see if your feelings change.” Sometimes I start to challenge myself using these numbers. For instance, I had an argument with a friend last summer, and I want to wait for a whole year to pass before trying to talk things out, because somehow I think that things will magically be all better by then. But I really don’t think this is the right approach at all. Instead, I should talk to her when I am ready to. It’s just really hard to do this when my brain keeps telling me, “Wait a few more months – then you can say it’s been a year, and everything will be okay.”

I think one of the biggest things I’m afraid of is having numerical values (and what society thinks about them) sway my thoughts when making huge, critical decisions. The one that worries me the most is marriage and the ages that come with it. As of right now, I feel that I’m way too young to be married, not only because of my age, but because I’m not mature enough for it. But then I do start thinking about numbers and suddenly, different scenarios run through my head. For instance, getting married right out of college. If everything works out between my boyfriend and me and we decide to get married, why wait? (or so my mind says sometimes) By then we’ll have dated for four or five years, and I’ll be twenty-two, maybe twenty-three years old… is that the “right” age to get married? Or is it still “too young” in society’s eyes? And if I wait, how long should I wait for? Wait until I’m twenty-five, twenty-six, maybe? Because then my mind’s sure to know what it wants. But what if it doesn’t? What if I still don’t know, or am “supposed” to wait until I’m twenty-eight or twenty-nine? The numbers start boggling my mind, overwhelming me…

The only thing I need to remember – for this and for anything – is this:

Despite what the numbers tell me, don’t do something until it’s right.

Numbers are important. They really are. They already give me something to do. Someday they’ll give me a job and help me pay for things, like a car, a house, my children’s education, and family vacations.

But as important as they are, I don’t need numbers to define my life.