The room was buzzing with the frustrated byproduct of “MATH”. All five of us were crowded into my downstairs office taking turns scribbling numbers onto sheets of paper or typing formulas into a computer. There was a cacophony of clacking and scribbling and then, in unison we all five sighed and, together, erased our work and scratched our heads in confusion, our arms getting tangled together in the tiny room.
I groaned as I deleted a line of code for the fifth time and pivoted in my desk chair. It rubbed against the top of Gideon’s head where he sat calculating sums out loud on the floor next to me, cradling his oversized math book. He jerked himself out of my way and sent Clara’s chair spinning, causing her to complain as she tried to continue her substitution problems while rotating in the air, legs folded beneath her, like a buddha statue in space. she kicked out a leg to slow herself down and it narrowly missed a bookcase and came to rest softly against the back of her younger sister’s downturned head. This caused Lydia to stand up and shake her fists, claiming that it was ruining her concentration, although we could all see from the doodles in the margin of the workbook she was holding that she hadn’t actually started working on her math yet. She closed her book and tossed it to the floor, backing into her mother’s armchair. Andrea, who had been trying to explain a new math concept to Gideon, was sent rocking back and forth. She braced herself with an extended toe on the edge of my chair to halt the motion, causing my chair to rotate once again into Gideon’s head and repeating the entire chain reaction from the very beginning.
I finished the sixth iteration of the equation I was trying to write in my spreadsheet and was greeted once again by a warning. The expression was referencing its own results causing an endless circular loop that could not be solved. The calculation would continue on forever if the computer had not been smart enough to not allow that to happen. It would melt the processor.
Gideon ducked under my chair as it spun in another orbit. Clara was sent in the opposite revolution as if we were two cogs in an oversized wristwatch. Lydia flung herself backward against her mother’s chair with a dramatic yelp of irritation, and once again I was knocked askew by the pendulum behind me.
All at once, the kids dropped their pencils into their laps and we all closed our eyes and said in one voice, “I think we are done with math for the day.”
“How about you guys go to the living room now and read some books?” I asked. Andrea agreed. The four of them stood as she marched them out of the room.
Everything was quiet and still. Gravity was once more reliable. The clockwork ticking of gears was halted. The mechanical cuckoo birds inside the clock had flown from the nest.
I stared at my spreadsheet for several long seconds and then gently typed out a new equation. This time there were no warnings. The results showed up on the screen. The loop was already finished. The math was appeased. Balanced. Static. Motionless. But there was no peace in the finality. It was like a model train finally reaching the end of the track and falling off the table.
My focus drifted and I found myself suddenly pondering chaos. Perhaps chaos is the real source of meaning. Perhaps there can be no real connection without setting objects in motion. Perhaps the real meaning of life was in the collision of lives. Maybe the real meaning of love can only be found in the conflicts and the fiery crashes of one life coming into sudden and uncomfortable contact with another life. Maybe the point is not to find a solution to the equation at all, but is instead in finding the equation that perpetually will have no solution?
I shook my head at the ceiling and laughed, listening to three voices in the next room as they each read three completely different stories simultaneously out loud over top of one another. And as the three voices overlapped and folded into themselves causing a nonsensical rhythm of incoherent tones, I kicked off from my desk and sent myself spinning in the center of the room, once again confused and once again at peace in the confusion.