My six-year-old daughter was given homework on Roman Numerals two weeks ago. Easy enough, I thought. Instinctively, I reviewed the basics with her. You know, I is one, V is five, X is ten. But then after that, I wasn't quite sure whether to teach her the concept behind the rest of the numbers or just tell her to memorize them. On one hand, I wanted her to understand and appreciate the subject. On the other hand, I wasn't sure how to simplify it. I tried to stall as I thought about which approach to take while slowly writing the numerals and their corresponding Arabic numbers on her red and blue-lined paper.
"Mom,"she interrupted my thoughts, "I saw these numbers in the big church!" "You did?" I asked, trying to think whether what she had seen were the Stations of the Cross. I ignored it and dug out my old Mickey Mouse watch that had roman numerals. Brilliant, except that the number four was written as IIII instead of IV. So I made an attempt at explaining, but it got a bit complicated which stressed both of us. I was running out of patience because I had to leave for a friend's memorial service in an hour. "Let's take a break and wait for dad." I said. My husband, the math person in the family, came home just as I was about to leave. I suggested he use toothpicks. That might inspire her a bit, I thought.
That Sunday, we went to the big church. As soon as we got to our pew, she looked up, pointed at the huge doors surrounding us, twelve in all, and in a hushed tone exclaimed "There!". No Stations of the Cross there, but roman numerals, big and bold on top of each door!
You know that part in the movies when someone goes inside a church and the light streams through stained glass windows like that person was just about to have an epiphany? Well, that moment was my daughter's epiphany in roman numerals. God forgive me, I can't remember what the Gospel was. We were so busy listening to her as she correctly identified each number with sheer excitement in her eyes. "Look dad, that's nine!", she whispered. Trust God to teach what you can't and lean not on your own understanding.