–Inspired by Benjamin Nuzzo, an admitted student from Eton College, UK
Find X. Let’s start with -5 and go from there. Nope. -4; nope. -2; Aha! -1; nope. Ugh. 0; no. 1,2,3; no. -4; Yes! Finally. Why did such a simple equation take so long?
As the girl walks through the Forever 21 at her local store, she picks up a new shirt, a skirt, and a jacket. She goes to check out. Her total comes up to sixty dollars and twenty-seven cents. She swipes her debit card through the payment terminal, and enters a pin allowing for the money to be drawn from her account. The girl leaves the mall. When she gets outside, she sees that the sun has almost disappeared from the sky, leaving only colorful shadows on the clouds. She zips up her coat, and holds tightly onto her bags and purse as she walks down the rows of cars. She spots her 2004 Volkswagen green bug, and with a giddy step, makes her way to her car, thankful to get out of the wind. She ignites the engine, starting up the low humming her car never seems to stop making, then plugs in her phone and puts on her favorite playlist. As she drives home alone, her thoughts seem to haunt her. Despite the excitement of buying a new outfit she worries, will I get compliments? I should’ve bought the other shirt. When she gets home, she grabs her bags and makes her way through her house to try on her new clothes. She greets her 4 months old kitten, takes off her current clothes, and puts her new ones on. At first glance she looks good, but as she gets closer to the mirror she sees the flaws that make her wish her body were different. She takes off the clothes, puts on baggy pajamas to forget about what she hates about her body, lies down on her bed, and checks her phone. Great. The girl sees that her boyfriend is upset with her, again. She feels, that no matter what she does, it always seems as though they are fighting. She apologizes for being distant, when in truth, she just wanted to take time for herself. She tells him she loves him, turns off her light, and goes to bed defeated.
Find X. Grab your graphing calculator. Press On, and then Y=. Enter the equation exactly as written. Press Graph. 2nd, trace, 2. Zero. Left bound. Right bound. Guess. x=-2. Repeat. 2nd, trace, 2. Zero. Left bound. Right bound. x=4. That was easy.
It has been months. The girl ends up crying herself to sleep, night after night. When will the pain stop? She doesn’t know why her medications have stopped working, why her anxiety has been worsening, or why her depression feels more and more like a shrinking box tightening with every tear. She sometimes wishes she were dead. She knows that that would make everything worse, but it would be so easy, she thinks. Every day to her is beginning to seem like a pointless repetitive cycle of nothing worth anyone’s time. Wake up. Eat breakfast. Drive to school. Try to pay attention, as the thoughts in her head never seem to stop. Drive home. Eat. Do homework. Sleep. Wake up. Do it all again. After a few more weeks of this, it all becomes too much. She asks her teacher to go to the nurse. She walks home on the trail crying because she knows what she is about to do is the worst possible option, but also the easiest. She calls her mother and asks her to pick her up at the middle school near her house. She is already home. As she sees her mother’s car back out of the driveway and drive hastily down the street, she runs inside, unlocking the door with the spare key hidden in a fake sprinkler with a screw-on cap. She runs upstairs, and takes 7000 milligrams of god knows what. Crying, panicking from what she has just done, the girl frantically scrambles for her phone, dialing 9-1-1 as soon as her finger tips allow it. What have I done?
Find X. Factor the equation. What is a value that can multiply to equal -8, and add to equal -2? Hmmm. -4*2=-8. -4+2=-2. Aha! X=-2, X=4. Just a little bit of math, not too hard.
Almost a month after the incident, the girl is finally back home with her family. Her boyfriend and her are no longer together, her new clothes sitting in her closet waiting for the next time they will be worn. Something is different about the girl. Inside the workings of her brain, while she is still feeling somewhat overwhelmed, she feels well equipped to handle the world as it is. You see, the girl realized that life is like a mathematical equation.
You can waste time guessing. You can buy all the clothes in the world, find temporary bliss in others, and, while grasping on a sliver of this thing we call “happiness”, never be provided with life-long fulfillment.
You can graph it. Take the easy way out. Forget the process, forget the work. You live and you die. You get X.
Or you can solve the problem. It may take a little bit of work, it may take a lot of work, but you realize that the beauty in the problem isn’t the answer, but the time, effort, and creativity you put into finding the answer. You let life throw rocks at you, and for a minute, you let it knock you down. After that minute, you set aside the pain, and you let it go, not letting it consume you.