Not as flashy-dramatic as 90, nor (at my age) as ho-hum as mere 80, 89 turns out to be easily forgotten. In my dawn reverie before getting out of bed this morning, I considered at length how it feels to be 89. Lately, as I have become used to the number when asked about my age (the nurses always ask for my date of birth, not my age) I’ve sometimes forgotten exactly how old I was/am. The smirks I’ve received suggested that more important than the number of years I’ve been alive was the fact of my growing forgetfulness. “Ah, dementia setting in.” I suspect that’s why the nurses ask for my date of birth, to see what I still remember. Officially, it’s to verify my identity for their records. “Spell your last name and the date of your birth.” Okay, you’re who you claim to be. And you’re still present mentally.
This prime number thing occurred to me this morning as a bright spot: 89 is not as unremarkable as I thought. And the fact that I knew it is a prime number registered as proof of my mental abilities. How I knew, I don’t know. But immediately I went through the simple process of verifying its place in the infinite series of prime numbers. Those are, of course, numbers that are divisible only by one and themselves. To someone for whom numbers and mathematics are interesting, they are a delightful fact; for anyone else, they are as interesting as the circumference of the earth. Probably less, since we like to think about the earth as a place to stand while we whirl around in the universe.
Once it is past, however, the number becomes just a number. Next up: 90. Oh, boy. Ninety. From this side of it, it’s not just a number. If you notice, as I have for the past dozen years or so, the ages given in the obits section of the NY Times show fewer people die past ninety. The atmosphere is getting thinner.
I once met an old woman, the grandmother of one of my neighborhood chums, who remembered the civil war. It seemed remarkable to me at the time, but she wasn’t as old as I am now. I remember vividly the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. My sisters and I had to look it up on a map, but for the next four years The War was ever present to us. It was a huge thing. Four years. The Viet Nam war lasted nearly twenty years. Our troops have been in Afghanistan since—what, 2001? Seventeen years.
Numbers do not speak of experience. I’ve lived in Michigan for nearly half of my life, yet it feels more like perhaps a quarter, if I have to think about it. It feels like home to me now, but just barely. I grew up in Cincinnati, and that time still seems to me to have been more important years in my life. The same number of years since the Twin Towers came down.
How does one get a handle on the years? Eighty-nine—ho hum. Next Big Thing? Ninety—If I make it. Today is really all there is.