For 17-year-old Jaime Simonds, numbers can do strange things.
Most of the time, she loves them.
In her mind, they fall into place like a handshake in ways most of us meager-brained people don't understand.
Other times, numbers are as sharp as kitchen knives, and no matter how hard she adds or subtracts, there's not enough in the checkbook to pay for medicines, milk and the light bill.
And on some days, like yesterday, nothing at all makes sense.
"Oh my gosh. Is this real? Is this for me?" Simonds said as the tears began to sneak out of her blue eyes. "This is amazing. Look at this."
She had just opened a white envelope that contained a $200 cashier's check. Every penny, just for her.
Moments ago, she had learned of another anonymous $100 donation. Just to help.
Before that, inside the East Eighth Street building of the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, Simonds received a big bag of books, perfect for her young son and her 10-year-old sister.
All gifts. From strangers.
Simonds, who days ago didn't know how she would pay her December light bill, lives with her hourly wage mom; young son, Eric (his birthday is this week); and her sister, Desiree.
Many of you read about them in the Dec. 26 newspaper (reporter Rachel Bunn wrote a front-page story; I added a column that nicknamed her the "girl who conquers numbers") as part of the Neediest Cases Fund. Some of you then responded with money, gifts, donations and offers to help.
"You truly are an exceptional young lady and I wish you all the best in your journey through life," read the anonymous letter attached to the cashier's check.
What a journey. Simonds moves gig-fast through her courses at Chattanooga State Community College, where she's enrolled in a program that lets her work at her own pace.
She finished economics in four days. Can read faster than Usain Bolt can run.
"I timed her," her foster dad told me. "Thirty seconds a page."
She wants to be a doctor. Then a lawyer. And get her doctoral degree in something. Anything. Like 10 resumes rolled into one. She knows it can happen, and names the one she thinks is behind it all.
"God," she said.
Yet each month, she's not sure if her savings account will make it to triple digits.
"I appreciate your toughness. I appreciate the people in the community for recognizing and being sensitive to some of your needs," Jack Parks, with the Partnership, told her. "Just keep going."
Gandhi once spoke about the world being rooted in goodness. Were we truly violent people, he said, humankind would have vanished long ago.
Jaime Simonds, at the center of an ecology of generosity, reminds me of that. She may be tougher than rebar, but she's also held in place by many folks. Including some of you.
Sometimes, the math doesn't work. No matter how hard we count, we end up with far more than we expect.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...