Your Number Is Up


 Sculpture by Jack Gregory / Photo Credit: Seymour Mednick

Hey Drew,

Well you died last night. Time of death, 10:55 pm, which is to say, 22:55 hours. A nice balance of numbers. For a final act, it was very thoughtful. A pair of evens, a pair of odds, both multiplied by a prime number, itself a pair of ones. Very thoughtful indeed.

This comes 10 months and 4 days (10-4, message received) after you entered the hospital and fell into a coma on July 4th, 2011, which is to say 07/04/2011. Add the 7 to the 4, split the 2011 and the whole thing looks like this; 11 20 11. Nice.

You died 129 days into the year, on May 8th, 2012, which is to say 05/08/2012, but only because it’s a leap year. Any other year and it would have been the 9th. When my time comes I hope to die early in a leap year too. Avoid the whole election cycle. Campaigning, primaries, debates; the whole thing. A wise choice and I’m glad you brought it to my attention. Also, I like that adding the individual numbers of your last day, 0+5, 0+8, 2+0+1+2, gives us 5 8 5. So much symmetry.

I’m pretty sure if I start tampering with the numbers surrounding your death I’ll be able to squeeze out a winning lottery number. I won’t know which one to play until after the drawing so it will be meaningless but that never stopped anyone from assigning significance to coincidence.

I guess you would have been able to see where I’m headed with this.

Numerology. Astrology. Phrenology. All the bed wetting pseudosciences.

Numerology is the belief that numbers have occult significance. That there is a divine and arcane relationship between numbers, counting and life.

Numerology touches on the infinite and that, I suppose, is it’s appeal. The assumption is that numerical coincidence is more than just coincidence and that somewhere in that infinity of possibilities there must be an explanation for everything. It’s pure bullshit of course. Anything can be proven if you start with a false premise because it closes the system around your answer. You can’t ask a question from inside this bubble and expect to get anything but your own foregone conclusions. You might just as well ask, “Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?” The only possible answer is that “Just like me, they long to be close to you.”

Let’s take a line. Our line may stretch out to infinity in both directions but that doesn’t mean it encapsulates, or even touches on, anything at all. Infinity is not everything. So understanding the infinite is not really that helpful in determining what to do in the here and now. It just goes to show you the desperate measures people will go to, in order to avoid the obvious. Some things, like death for instance, are not explainable beyond the fact of being so.

Many people believe that you can know the mind of god if you can tease out the numerology supposedly imbedded in the testaments, the stars or the roulette tables. This belief presumes that god has absolutely nothing better to do with eternity. It also suggests that god has a special love of puzzles because, you know, god just loves to fuck with us. All of it amounts to one more instance in which people think that the answers to life’s riddles are obscured and require someone else, an “expert” (with powers far beyond those of mortal men) to do the interpreting. Enter the prophets and charlatans. A core of self doubt will have you believing that a traveling salesman has insights that are not available to you directly, through observation and a little common sense.

It seems probable that this belief in obscurity is, itself, the problem.

But people always seem to need an expert to tell them how to live and what it all means. They say the definition of an expert is:

Someone From Out of Town

The assumption here is that not only are the people we know uninformed but so are we. Well Drew, at this point, no one is further out of town than you. The shame of it is that you and all your neighbors at Montefiore Cemetery have all the answers; the whole meaning of life. Ordinarily the problem of communication has stood in the way of insights from beyond the grave but that may be our shortcoming and not yours. Maybe we aren’t attentive enough.

I live a few blocks from historic Green-Wood Cemetery and let me tell you, there’s a lot going on over there. Eight generations of inscriptions speak to us. The husbands and wives who die within months of each other. The graves of children; small in the past when infant mortality was high but large now. There is wisdom out here among the marbles.

I was thinking about all these things as we got you to the cemetery. Why we think there is sense to be made. The cause and effect of life suggests that there should be something learned here about death but again we are misled by our own assumptions. Life and death are not math. You don’t tally the days and come up with a cumulative answer based on a system of checks and balances. 2+2 do not equal 4 when tallying a life or probing for the meaning of death. The complexity of an individual resists that kind of reductive reasoning. But seen from just a few steps away, there may be something else; something unexpected, something overlooked. So often the answers appear to be obscured because they lie directly in front of us; cloaked in a veil of simplicity.

At graveside, I was reading the stones around you and I have to say that good fortune has put you in good company. Right behind you, a few stones away, is a dark granite headstone belonging to Seymour “Sy” Kamens. You cant miss it, it’s the only dark stone there. Sy’s epitaph reads:

“He Lived While He Lived”

Sy died a few months shy of his fiftieth birthday but his inscription takes us out of the box (so to speak) of evaluating a life and looking for meaning, and reminds us that the meaning is intrinsic and needs no further explanation.

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10 Responses to Your Number Is Up

  1. Bethany says:

    Spot on. As a muse, Drew led you to tell some fine tales.

  2. Sweetney says:

    I sit here, impressed, my heart aching, as usual. Love to you, and deepest condolences.

  3. looselipsmelissa says:

    Condolences to you and the family. Who will you be writing to now?

  4. sonja lange says:

    Death has been a frequent visitor around these parts and it never seems to make sense – but living while you live, that I can wrap my head around. Sorry for your loss.

  5. jeffrey e devers says:

    Yo Arthur,

    The numbers are not about the infinite.They are about understanding, fear, and the limits of our abilities. They help, as Ricky Ricardo would say, ” some splaining to do”.
    It is the void of knowledge, understanding, and faith that gives rise to this stuff.

    I like to think of the numbers that help me understand and enjoy life. i recently explained to one of my sons that his most recent screw up was not a monumental problem. He was having a bad day, one of an estimated 30,000 plus days in his life. Not a big percentage, and many days in which to recover and do something better.
    Or compare and divide the number of days you are alive to the number you are dead. the fraction approaches Zero. That might argue that you shouldn’t waste any of the numerator on useless or petty activities. You should savor the day, hour, and moment.
    Or how many more days are we guaranteed in the future? My guess is zero. Better not waste time being timid if this could be it.

    Death does not require an explanation or communication. Whether we die and go to God and spend eternity happy or sad, or we become part of the Great Spirit, or just worm food, it really doesn’t matter as to how we spend our precious little time here on earth.
    Death is what gives our life ballast. Death is the North Star. If you ever can’t decide which way to go, ask your death. He’s never wrong.

    LIke you, Drew was my cousin. I wasn’t as close as you, but I did love him. I cried at 1130pm when I heard he passed, and i cried the next morning. I cried for him, for Judy, for Jason, and for me. I cried because I would never have a cigar, a joke, and a hug again with one of the kindest men I knew.

    I cried because I really don’t think the world is a better place without Drew Lewin.

    JED

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