“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” ~ Desmond Tutu.
I don’t know when I first realized that I was good at Math, or at least found the manipulation of numbers to be fun. I remember being given a book of math puzzles, I think they called them magic squares – way before the West discovered Sudoku. I don’t quite remember the process, but in involved working out which numbers to fill in the rows to equal the right sum. It is fuzzy now, but I remember having fun doing them. And I also remember that others found it strange that I thought it was fun!
I spent a year of high school in the UK, a strange year when I looked in place (white face among mostly white faces) and felt profoundly out of place in the rigid, formal environment of a girl’s only school. How I missed the relative freedom of my Jamaican high school where I may have looked out of place (white face among mostly black faces) but felt at home. But I had a good, if corny, math teacher for the year of my exile. He obviously loved math. When it came to teaching us logarithms (now there’s a concept I have never applied in my working life!) he would always start out by saying ‘It’s as easy as falling off a log!’ and then chuckle as we groaned. Somewhere I still have a tidy exercise book, filled with carefully scripted math problems (written in fountain pen, with subject headings underlined with a ruler), and many algebraic equations (oh the challenge of a quadratic equation!), and carefully drawn (in pencil) triangles for the geometry section.
My father loved numbers. He had taught me the trick of simplifying problems by rounding up and subtracting. When multiplying 24 by 19, multiply it by 20 then subtract 24. Wow! Magic! I tried sharing that with another instructor once and she looked at me as if I was crazy! That made it worse! Even when he was being evaluated for dementia, my father could do the ‘serial sevens’ challenge: counting backward from 100 in sevens (93, 86, 79…) except that he got tired and said ‘etc.,’ after a while.
We often hear people complain that what we learn in high school has little application to life, or to future professions. Which probably is not completely untrue. But I have found that what we don’t learn (and need desperately to know) is how to learn. There are educational systems that focus entirely on memorization. I still know my times tables (up to 12) because of the singing of our times tables in primary (elementary) school in Jamaica. Thanks to the rote method of learning, I am comfortable with long division and multiplication. Our kids today are taught how to use calculators. But the problem with memorization is that it is the lowest level of learning. If you can’t apply what you learn, the information is just taking up space in your brain, clogging the passageways where critical thinking needs to take place.
I was fascinated by the subject of statistics, having teachers at both the undergrad level and postgrad level who were so in love with their subject that they made it fun. But what I have loved to observe in the real world, is how much statistics have come to the fore in the age of COVID. Usually the statisticians are dusted off and brought out of their caves during elections, to wow us with probabilities and trends and numbers to worry about. But I have never heard the use of the phrase ‘data points’ used as often as I have over the past year.
Another word that fascinates me is ‘intersectionality’, speaking of how diverse groups of people can intersect with common interests. But it is the word triangulation that has haunted me this week. In detective shows they use it to locate a suspect, using cell phone signals to track them down. In statistics it refers to the method of analyzing data using different approaches to verify results. But for me it refers to the way different people in my life connect me to others.
When my daughter got married, her wedding was for me a triangulation of the disparate aspects of my life. Most people have friends and family groups, and sometimes they are completely separate. My life has taken me from England (with my English family) to Jamaica (to my Jamaican family and school friends) to Miami (with my work friends). There was representation from every one of those groups at the wedding, and it may have been the only time that has ever happened.
A friend died this week, and she represented one of those points in the triangle. We had gone to high school in Jamaica together, and for a while she and her sister lived with my family from Monday to Friday during school time, to save them the five mile walk to and from school every day. We studied together in the early morning (along with another school friend who had to travel even further). June (named for her birth month) had a wicked sense of humor, and got on very well with my father. They would have long conversations. After high school we lost touch, I traveled, she stayed in Jamaica. But on my trips home to Jamaica, if I visited my childhood church I would see June in the choir.
It was on Facebook that we resumed our friendship, and most recently shared our morning views of sunrise from our side of the world. June was one of those seven- days a week Christians, whose faith carried her through her darkest hours. Oh, she was a powerful prayer warrior, her prayers were requested by those in need. The sense of loss that I feel cannot be expressed, but this is not intended to be her eulogy. What June did for me was to keep me connected to Salem Church, and to my father’s love of the people, the place and his God. June came from Wood Hall, and though my father did not have a church there, he had many church members that he would visit there. June, I thank you for triangulating me with my father.
To all of my Family, you may never realize how much you are appreciated. June expressed appreciation every moment of her life, and she was appreciated. This weekend I encourage you to reach out to someone we haven’t heard from in a while. We never know when we may not have the opportunity to do so.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! And may we all appreciate each sunrise, each shower of rain, and each other.