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Numbers help us cope with indefinite constant


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POSTED: Sunday, December 27, 2009

Numbers can lie, my nephew said in a recent spirited discussion about his age.

We had deliberately confused ourselves by considering other factors, like the months, weeks and days between his birthday and his older brother's, what month it was at present and the candles stuck on a pile of apple turnovers that stood in for a birthday cake in November.

We both knew that all we had to do was simple subtraction, but it was more interesting and fun to throw in off-tangent theories and peripheral matters, such as occasions that he believed suggested he was older than he was.

'Tis the season for accounting, a review of the year by checking off main events in culture, sports, medicine, politics, science, arts—whatever category deemed important enough to reflect an ensemble of life.

The past “;decade”; also seems to be getting the treatment since simple subtraction of 2000 from next year's 2010 will yield 10.

(Remember, though, that we had a similar argument going when 2000 was shuffled in and out of the turn-of-the century equation, so let's not have that squabble now. In any case, my nephew's statement stands true.)

Counting is what people seem to do to get their arms around the phases of the planet's movement. Analysis of the indefinite constant may be a way to help understand changes, while designating endings and beginnings is a means of putting a lid on the first and popping open the second.

Media summaries have generally included wars, economic horrors, deaths of masses and sole souls, meteorological destruc-tion, winners and losers, silliness of celebrities and those who strive for the status with a few inspirational stories sprinkled in.

As important as events shared by the many are the ones that evolve closer to home. Broad strokes of public and societal affairs do not darken pinpoints uniquely colorful to each of our own.

While some are momentous, like the birth of a first child, most are small and unexpected, inconsequential but for the energy they breathe into a single moment.

They are private artifacts, sometimes ugly, that separate yesterday from today and tomorrow, snapshots that matter more than the wide-screen pictures shared universally.

They can balance a weighty slip of time by binding participants with a power to remember what looks trivial to outside eyes.

This cache of things past shapes what happens next, consciously or otherwise. Meanness can beget meanness, kindness can kindle compassion.

What are bits and pieces can bind a whole that finds vigor and strength.

So 2010 stands ready, 365 days of sunrises and sunsets that will bring the unpredictable, save for designated holidays like the Christmas just gone by and a 13th birthday in September for nephews age 12.