Different Kinds of Counting

Greetings and welcome to another post about trying to make your time during this pandemic matter, written at the last minute because I can’t manage to make my time during this pandemic matter. No one’s perfect. Anyway. I guess I have some thoughts to share with you, make of them what you will.

There are a few different meanings to the word “count” and I’d like to take a sec to have a few moments with a selection of them. First, a look at probably the default meaning for most people. Count as in numbers as in, I can count to ten.


So that old song Minnie the Moocher, you may know it from The Blues Brothers, has a great line. Like, my favorite from the song, it’s kind of haunting.

She had a million dollars worth of nickels and dimes, she sat around and counted them all a million times.

Makes me feel a whole lot less positive toward the idea of counting, I don’t know about you. I have this maddening image of a woman slouching lower and lower, scowling deeper and deeper, body dwindling away while the piles of coins slosh and shift, building up piles that inevitably collapse only to be counted again.

Please don’t think it’s an exaggeration when I tell you that that is low-key what I envision whenever I think about millionaires and billionaires. My mind doesn’t generally linger on the image (thank goodness) because I’m aware that people actually aren’t caricatures but even so. It’s  still kind of gross to me to think about a person, one person, having that much money.

It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Oscar Wilde, for those of us without piles of coins to count (as much as we might still be obsessed with counting what little we have). He said, “Who, being loved, is poor?”


Number two way to think about counting (hahaha yessss number twooooo, it’s like I’m counting!): people counting, like, people mattering.

I think I’ve talked about this on here before and with good reason. Probably most people have gotten to the point that they at least pay lip service to the idea that all humans matter. That we should all count. There’s an easy and lazy way to say this in democracies because you can simply say, “Look, we vote and all votes count the same.”

I think that’s ridiculous for a lot of reasons but even taking it at face value, you’re saying that you must vote to count. This question is very relevant with the US Census occurring recently (and ongoing??) and it makes me recall the debates about what questions they would ask, specifically about citizenship. It was a super clear signal that they weren’t interested in the first kind of counting that I talked about, the plain old numbers kind, but instead were pursuing an agenda meant to limit the people who count in this second way.

Makes me think of equality and equity. The former being where you treat everyone the same and the latter where you treat everyone the way they need to be treated. Example: wheelchair ramps because some people have different mobility needs, treating everyone as though they could climb stairs isn’t actually good for society.

That’s what I think whenever people try to come up with conditions for ‘counting’ in any way. First, that they make a big show about equality as a way of actually ensuring a lack of equity. Second, that whatever they may say to the contrary, putting conditions on counting means that you don’t think all people count.

Also v relevant with regard to queer people and the church, but that’s a topic for another day.


Finally, thirdly, lastly, I submit this meaning of count to you: that which we mean when we say ‘make your time count.’

This is very related to the second point but with this difference: we can say whatever we want about who counts and who doesn’t (not that it makes one jot of difference) but we cannot say, corporately, whether our time mattered or not. That is one only for the history books.

As I discussed last week, for many of us, this time has been ripe with opportunities for personal growth. And not more pressingly but perhaps more lastingly, opportunities to change the world in powerful ways. That is how I encourage you to move forward: thinking about how to make all of this count in the grand scheme of things, however you might be able.


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways that you count. And may all our counting make a difference for people we will never meet.

Care about People

As a quick follow-up to last week’s post, I encountered a quotation recently which was super relevant but I forgot to include. No commentary, just a line from the writer James Baldwin who said, “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

What a beautiful thing unconditional love is.

Anyway, we’re in this week now so we’ll move on. This week has held… not a whole lot for me. Surprise. I have fallen once more into the unemployed, unmotivated bleh of nothingness that has become a bit of an annual affair for me. Still applying and things but it’s a big yikes. Whatever.

I have also been reading in the sun, one of my favorite things in the world, as you know. I have been trying to have friends, as you know, and trying to balance being honest about my needs with listening and honoring their needs. It’s hard to do both simultaneously, work in progress.


Because nothing is happening in my life, I would like to talk for a moment about the world and the people in it.

I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned it on here before, but I have been to Russia. Twice, in fact, in the same summer. First, I went on tour with my university choir and then, only a couple weeks after our return, I went to study in St. Petersburg for six weeks. It was such an experience.

It is not my place to give you a rundown on recent Russian political history, current events in Russia, or the geopolitical dynamics involving Russia. Though, if you’re interested, I would encourage even a cursory look into those topics (as long as you remain humble about it; a cursory look isn’t going to make you any kind of expert). But those things are on my mind because things are happening and they matter to me because I’m interested but they also should matter at least a little to you because you’re a part of this world.

I do keep up on world news, because I find it interesting and I have some higher-level background on the subject than others may. And I like to pay special attention to a few places that have grabbed my heart in often random but definitely meaningful ways (see: Croatia).  But I bring up Russia as a place to start because I have several memories, specific and vivid (at least relative to my memory) memories, that speak so loudly to the kind of international understanding and across-boundaries/through-barriers camaraderie that is possible among people who are so very different and whose countries are not, shall we say, supposed to be particularly friendly.

Two fictional moments that I ponder often:

  • in The Phantom Tollbooth when one of the princesses says “Whenever you laugh, gladness spreads like the ripples in the pond; and whenever you’re sad, no one anywhere can be really happy.”
  • in The Two Towers when the ents refuse to act and Pippin says “But you’re a part of this world! Aren’t you?”

We cannot all be responsible for keeping track of all that is going on in the world. And we should not be condemned to perpetual sadness because people somewhere are sad. That is not what I am advocating here. We have to live our lives, as they’re the only ones we’re able to live.

Acknowledging that, however, I think we do bear two responsibilities when it comes to thinking about issues in the world on a global level. First, though we don’t need to keep up with every single thing that is going on (as much as I am an advocate for reading world news), we ought to be aware that things are tough in the world. That we are blessed. That problems exist in other places, for other people, and those problems matter.

Second, as obvious and ridiculous as it may sound, we need to remember that the world is populated by human beings. Some would try to tell us that certain people–from a certain neighborhood/region/country, with a different sexual orientation or gender identity, who speak a different language, who are differently abled, who are otherwise overtly different–are distinct on some fundamental level and that they are not like you. This is a lie. Our differences matter but they are not fundamental. We are we.

I read yesterday that Americans are much more supportive of dropping nuclear bombs on people than I thought. When asked why, many respond that it is a quick, painless death and a sure way to achieve the desired results. But when people are given information about the actual effects are–the horrific, grueling, gruesome effects that nuclear weapons have on the human body–support drops dramatically.

So please. I know that you have to live your lives, that we are all inevitably trapped in a sphere that, on some level, we cannot make any larger. We simply don’t have the capacity. But please, please, care for your fellow people. They are facing problems, too, and they are, deep in their core, exactly like you.  Refuse to believe that any human being is less worthy of love, safety, provision, or life.

Loving your neighbor isn’t about who your neighbor is. It’s about who you are.

Why You Should Be More Like a Bag of Tortilla Chips

I was reading an article the other day (I’m not linking it because I honestly don’t care that much) about how, apparently, there’s been a recent uptick in lawsuits regarding underfilled snack packaging. You know, like a bag of chips with four total chips in it. We’ve all been there. I guess it’s a whole genre of legal action, though I forget the name.

Then, just yesterday, I saw a bag of tortilla chips–Safeway brand I believe, if you’re curious–that was entirely opaque. You know, just a normal chip bag. Then I realized, most tortilla chips come in a bag with a little window. You can see the chips. You know how full the bag is before you buy.

And, this will tell you where I am in life right now, that Safeway bag of chips is now the topic of this post. Are you ready. Here it comes.

People are upset in those legal cases because they are surprised by what something has (or does not have, rather) inside. It’s shocking to purchase a snack product–movie theater candy was another popular choice because their boxes are bigger than grocery store boxes apparently–and end up with way less snack than the packaging would suggest.

I won’t get into how this is, at it’s core, why either capitalism is a failed system (businesses built on what is, at best, misleading and at worst, lies, are not enabling rational choice, the beloved principle of economists) or we are not living in a true capitalist society. It would be so easy for all chip bags to be translucent. Instead, surprise of the century, I’m going to make things personal and philosophical.

Here’s the thing: little cellophane windows in tortilla chips are what I feel people need more of in their lives. Openness, that is. Showing the insides. Not just so people know what to expect, and decide whether to know us or not, but so that we can simply be a little bit more known.

I know this summer, relational and social have been very difficult for me. Social is pretty much always difficult for me but that’s beside the point. It’s hard to be transient in the way that I have been for the past few years because getting to see inside other people’s bag of chips is a real challenge when you haven’t know them that long. The same holds true of online communities as well, where I have made some inroads toward relational but have again been stymied partly because it just hasn’t been that long. There hasn’t been that much contact.

And thus, the emotional response to the entirely not-see-through-able bag of tortilla chips. There are good reasons for having bags of chips with lots of air, or milk duds that only fill up the box part way. Things are delicate, sealing adhesives may melt the product or overfilling may fuse parts you want to be individual &ct &ct &ct. The question isn’t really “should there be any empty space” it’s more along the lines of “what amount of space is okay with me.”

The little tortilla chip window does not claim that there is not space. It simply shows you what’s inside and lets you make the judgement. And, it hopes, the window will be enticing enough for you to choose that bag specially.


As an aside, I have finally gotten to see these precious ones again. Bubba remains impossible to photograph reasonably, but Camaro is regal as ever.


Later that evening–after the whole chip bag revelation– I finally sat down to watch The Imitation Game which is a wonderful movie. I really enjoyed it and would recommend but it was, of course, very sad. The kind of tragedy that unfolds on several different levels morally, ethically, emotionally, and personally. Oddly enough, it resonated with my above musings as though the whole thing had been planned.

It is difficult to know people. Another mind is, and always will be, an enigma. We can only be ourselves and, far too often, being ourselves is a hard ask for people whose selves are different from the norm. Sometimes, letting people see inside your chip bag isn’t just difficult, it’s dangerous.

Yet we look all the same. We look for people who will let us in, show us their insides, and hope against hope that we will not find them underfilled. Slowly, and if all goes well, we find people who think the same of us. And call them friends.

Showing insides is hard, and I am so very bad at it. It bears costs but I do believe the risks are worth the rewards. So I hope that we can all take a deep breath and let some of our chip bag become translucent. It’s vulnerable, showing all that empty space, but how else are we meant to find the people who like us just the way we are?

Shel Silverstein, philosopher for the ages, wrote,

“She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through.
Then passed right by–
And never knew.”