Does anybody really know what time it is?
About a month ago, I received a Tweet that said,
"It’s 12:34:56 7/8/9! It only happens once!"
Some else wrote back that actually it happened twice, both AM and PM. And I pointed out that it happened twice in each of the 24 time zones around the world.
That was on July 8, 2009. But there are large parts of the world that say that today is 7 August, 2009 and today’s date is also 7/8/9. So that string of consecutive digits happened again twice in twenty four time zones today.
Hmm. Not so special.
Here’s something else that happens EVERY DAY, twice a day in 24 time zones: 12:34:56.789! Wow!
The original Tweeter was right about one thing, though. That afternoon moment a month ago did only happen once. Just like right, now at 9:57:43 PM MDT on August 7, 2009 only happens once. And, now its, 9:57:58. Both of those moments only happened once.
But, this really got me to thinking about how and why it’s deep in our psyches to celebrate arbitrary milestones. Babe Ruth was the first to hit 700 home runs. When he did, it was a big deal. But, guess what? He was also the first to hit 699. And 698. And 697. Why did folks get excited because that 700th had two zeroes? It turned out that the really important home run was number 714, the last one the Babe hit. But no one knew that at the time. For some reason, a pitcher that retires with 299 wins does not seem as special as one with 300.
My parents had their 50th anniversary five years ago. Big celebration. Since then, they have had 51, 52, 53 ,54, and next week 55. Ho-hum. No one notices. (I do: Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!) Nancy and I will celebrate 23 years of marriage in two days by maybe going out to dinner. Or staying in and watching a movie. But, we’ll probably have a party on our 25th. Actually, we will probably celebrate more on our 30th anniversary of when we met at 25 cent beer night at a baseball game 30 years ago on August, 31, 1979. But, that’s a whole other story…
I was disappointed when I missed watching the odometer on my truck turn from 99,999 to 100,000. Why? I knew exactly what it would look like both before and after. And there was no difference between mile 99,999 and 100,000, except that was the moment that my extended warranty expired.
Again, why? What is it about markers with zeroes on the end or consecutive numbers that is appealing to us?
Some people go wacky with the numbers, which is even wackier when the numbers are arbitrary and made up. Many centuries ago people decided that a new year started on January 1. Nothing cosmic. Just a convention. But some people thought the end of the world would happen on 1/1/2000. (Or at least the computers would blow up.) Some people got all mystical and misty eyed at 07:07:07 7/7/7. It was no accident that the Beijing Olympics started on 8/8/8. There’s nothing magical about those numbers. Nature very seldom adheres to the decimal numbering system (except that we use it because of the number of our fingers). If nature had been kind to people who calculate interest, the year would be 360 days long, not 365.25, so we could have 12 thirty day months.
The ancient Bablylonians were the first to divide our day into 24 hours and further subdivide them into 60 minute hours and 60 second minutes. These are numbers that work well because they are divisible evenly in so many different ways, but they are still made up numbers. It used to be that noon was when the sun was directly overhead in your town. It became too hard to figure out train schedules if every town had a different noon, so we made up standard time and divided the world into a couple dozen time zones. And, then, just for grins, we all agree (except for Arizona) that we just move our clocks an hour twice a year for daylight savings time. An arbitrary move that we all agree to.
But, we still take notice of 12:34:56 7/8/9, even though it is a completely made up number.
I don’t know why we celebrate the big round numbers. Maybe it’s the seeming specialness of the numbers that cause us to stop and reflect about where we are and what we have accomplished. It’s good to stop and reflect and celebrate occasionally. We decide to do this together has a culture, which is a good thing. We decide that on the fourth Thursday of the eleventh month each year that the Cowboys and Lions play football, but not against each other, while we over eat turkey (that we seldom eat any other time) and stop to count our blessings, and even Burger King closes for the day. We have decided that the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox is a day we hide colored plastic eggs filled with chocolate for our children to find, followed by a large midday meal, and maybe a parade with fancy bonnets. Oh, yeah: Many of us have also decided that Easter is a day of great religious significance.
I started this essay as a lark about numbers and numerology, but thinking about why we celebrate at the times we do makes me wonder why we don’t celebrate each moment we have. As I said above, this moment right now will not come again. And I am celebrating that my parents have been married 54 years and 357 days, and that I am lucky at the age of 18,778 days I still have both of my parents. I am looking forward to my 18,779th day tomorrow. I’m lucky to have been married to the same wonderful woman for 22 years, 363 days and three hours. I’m happy that my truck is still trucking at 141,368 miles. And I take comfort in knowing that at some time after 12:00:00.000 it will again be 12:34:56.789.
Every moment counts. Celebrate now. Notice this moment right now, not just the ones with consecutive digits. Be here now. The moment just past won’t come again, and I expect to make the most of all the moments I have left.