I am a native New Yorker. I grew up in New York but moved away for college and did not return to live until eight years ago. This month marks my eighth anniversary back in the Big Apple. I am also interested in numbers. For instance, I’ve noticed that my life seems to run in eight-year cycles like an octave in music. Every eight years a major event occurs, which could be anything from a job change to a move or a new relationship.
So, I have been thinking about the number eight lately. Just like Richard Mercurius, the main character in The Gringo (Blumen Publishing, 2011) who obsesses over the year of his birth, 1961, because it looks the same upside down as right side up, I have been musing over the number eight, which also looks the same upside down as right side up.
Actually, it’s not eight that fascinates me but the movement from seven to eight to nine (7-8-9). You see, at an exact moment on the afternoon of August 15, I will end seven “plus” years in New York City, complete my eighth, and begin my ninth. I will not reach eight years until the seventh has run its course. And just as the seventh crosses into the eighth, I will begin my ninth. All in the blink of an eye.
Words fail. Much depends on concepts like end, complete, begin. When you use words to describe numbers, it is just as clumsy as trying to quantify words, which is why artificial intelligence will never get off the ground. Neither words nor time can be reduced to digits in any meaningful way. Three events–ending my seventh year, completing my eighth, and beginning my ninth–will happen all at once. And the fact that this will occur in the eighth month of the eighteenth year is of momentous import. Who could deny that?
If this isn’t at all clear to you, think of a quarter-mile track. Let’s say you decide to run for two miles, or eight laps. The instant you cross the finish line of the eighth lap, you will have ended seven, completed eight, and begun the ninth lap, whether you intend to run it or not. It doesn’t matter if you collapse on the sidelines in exhaustion. Three dimensions of time–past, present, and future–exist in that one instant crossing the finish line.
This also works with clocks. Imagine the second hand passing from 7:59 to 8:00. As it does, it ends the seventh hour, completes the eighth, and moves toward the ninth. Three dimensions of time are at work as the clock strikes eight. And it does strike. I can hear the bell in the church tower on 187th street even now.
This is not as crazy as it sounds. In fact, there’s probably a mathematical name for it. I got started on it years ago running track, even before Richard’s obsession with 1961. The Easter Vigil only made things worse. How could Christ have died on Friday and risen on the third day when there is only one day separating Friday from Sunday? Turns out the Romans did not have zero, although the Babylonians identified it a thousand years earlier. The Romans also marked time according to spatial coordinates. Troops arriving late were said to be at the end of the line (in novissimo).
What does all this mean for you? It ought to serve as a reminder not to take things for granted or accept the given simply because it is what everybody else is doing or thinking. We need tradition, of course, but part of our tradition in the West is to question reality and test assumptions. If we step back and look at life with the eyes of a child, we may see things differently. This includes a deeper appreciation for what goes on around us and not just under our noses. It will make us sensitive to the other dimensions we live in.
Did you ever imagine that we could transcend time, even travel through it, by paying attention in a different way? Knowing that, we can avoid the narrowness of mind identified by E.M. Forster, who said of one of his characters, “He lived for the five minutes that have past and the five to come; he had the business mind.”
Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. Eight ball photo by Pau Casals on Unsplash; typewriter photo by Tim Arterbury on Unsplash; clock photo by Stas Knop from Pexels. Note to self: You’ve gotta love baseball. It’s the only major sport with dirt.