What is it about our species that makes us want to measure everything? Early this morning I was swimming laps and after a busier than normal period of long hours, little sleep and poor routines, my mind was foggy. I was struggling to keep count. Was I up to four or had I already swum six, could I reach my mini, out of condition, target of ten or would I be able to push through and swim twenty? How long had I slept the night before? How long would I sleep tonight? How many hours would I work? How much fat from my paunch belly would I be burning? The numbers went on and on and I began to wonder if any of it mattered. Why couldn’t I just swim for thirty minutes and not count the number of laps? Why did I need to count? Would it matter if I swam twenty, twenty-five or seventeen? But then thirty minutes was a measure again. Why did it have to be thirty minutes? Couldn’t I just swim for twenty-eight or ten or whatever I felt like at the time?
Suddenly as I was swimming up and down the pool, counting laps, I began drowning in numbers. I was surrounded and soaking in means and methods for measuring all aspects of my life. The way I spent time, everything I ate, my level of education, my income, my outgoings, my height, my weight, the number of words I would put to the page. Everything measured, everything weighed up and compared to some standard form or another.
But why? Why do we do it? As I approached my tenth lap I realised my mind and body were gearing up for a short swim. After all it had been a while and I didn’t want to over do it. My last lap is always a sprint. Whatever energy I haven’t expended in the lead up I try to burn off in one final and focused push. Even when I’m exhausted there always seems to be energy for a fast dash to the end. In that last sprint this morning the king of measures raced through my mind. There it was as I hurriedly paced to the finish. The measure of all measures, the very thing my swimming was aiming to push away, my mortality. Perhaps that is what drives us to constantly count and compare. Everything gauged against an inevitable ending. I breathed deeply at the end of the pool, relaxed my exhausted limbs, sank into the cool water and let go of all the numbers racing around in my head. I was in no hurry to reach the end of that mortal measure that defines us all, content for the time being to question if that very limit on our lives is what feeds our insatiable need to evaluate, measure and define.