“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” I figure, if I am going to imitate, might as well do so from a writer of note. And so, Charles Dickens seemed to fit, just a little perhaps.
So, what is this tale, that is at once both its thesis and antithesis? For me, for now, for this writing, the time is December 12, 2013. I am, as you know, an engineer, and also have an M. S. degree specializing in applied probability and statistics. This study involves both order as well as chaos, with the math that goes along in trying to figure out what the numbers really do represent. It is very easy to pick up a fact, an observation, if you will, and build up a universe of explanation as to how this either explains everything, if that is what you want, or denies everything, if that is what you want. The thing is, to do the analysis by the book, you need a lot of information to filter things out. Unfortunately, I don’t have much more than the date I just set down. So, I’ll work with what I have and hope it leads somewhere.
So, what do we know about 12/12/13? Well, for one thing, it is one day short of being a month after my 77th birthday. Maybe there is something special about the number 77. Well, if you are shaking two honest dice, the number 7 is the most likely to turn up than any other single number. So twice in a row, maybe a sign of good luck? Or maybe not, let’s try something else. I do find myself comparing myself, in my mind, with two actors my age in recent movies. Robert Redford in “All is Lost” where he struggles alone with his damaged boat. The other is Bruce Dern who played, as described in Parade, a wiley and bewildered old man. I do not think I am either lost, at least completely, or bewildered, but I have now surpassed the average expected age of males born in 1936 by 20 years. What now? Maybe I am a little bewildered.
One very nice thing that happened on the above date was that I was being treated by a charming lady (C.L.) to a birthday lunch at an upscale, restaurant near to both our homes. A great location . The date was past my birthday, but what with one thing or another, 12/12/13 worked for both of us and so it happened. Different dates came and went, for very good reasons at the time, or so it seemed. But possibly, just possibly, there was some unknown purpose in this particular date working out. Then again, with age, I may be forgetting all I learned long ago in graduate school. It was certainly, for me, a date I was genuinely anticipating. a “best of times” sort of day.
It also happened that the Nathan Adelson Hospice was holding, on that date, a ceremony they call “Light Up a Life.” The purpose is to honor patients who had died while in care of the Hospice. The highlight of the ceremony is saying the name and lighting a personalized votive candle for a loved one who had died. Candle No. 2 My wife Margery was in the Home Hospice program and died of cancer last October and was one of the honorees. So, the memory of her death is my worst of times.
Since I have started out with plagiarism, sort of, I’ll make an attempt in giving a sense of the program with an excerpt of a few lines of a hymn by Natalie Sleeth that was printed in the Hospice program.
In the cold of snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be;
Unrevealed until its season, something we alone can’t see.
From the past will come the future; what it holds a mystery.
Unrevealed until its season, something we alone can’t see.
I almost did not go. I gave myself reasons, being dark at night, tired, etc. but of course all BS, so I got in the car and left for the event. I was really glad I did it. It was not about me, but about Marge’s memory. I met and talked with a few people I knew, but most I did not know. Really, all most of us had in common was the memory of a loved one who is no longer physically with us. Though there were cookies and coffee, it was not really a social event, just people dealing best they can with their loss.
So, in less than 12 hours, one of the best of times was a delightful lunch in a fine location with C.L., a charming and delightful lady that I met this summer. The worst of times was reliving in the evening program, the death last year of Marge .
So, was it just a matter of random timing that both events in my life, such polar opposites, took place within hours of each other? Training tells me that the events of the day were just that, random events, and any other of a number of events could just as logically have taken place as well.
But, much as I hate to raise the question, are technology and math the answers to everything in the universe? At least on a personal level, I really don’t think so and if I look for an alternative meaning, I might just find it. For me at least.
Flashing backward in time, lunch was delicious and memorable. The waiter brought some extra plates, and C.L. and I shared portions of our lunch. One minor unfortunate problem is that I had ordered Maryland crab cakes, which I have not had in decades, but for health reasons, C.L. can not eat shell fish. No matter. The act of sharing food makes dining a much more personal and intimate event. We had just about finished when C.L.’s daughter, joined us after having her hair done. The waiter knew that we were there together because of my birthday and said I could have a sundae of my choice in lieu of a birthday cake. I chose a chocolate and cherry sundae which came with a lit candle. So, candle #1. I got to blow out the candle, make my wish, and then we could all share a few bites each of this delicious treat. How fortunate I felt, to share this event, at different levels of sweetness, late in my life with two such attractive, entertaining, delightful, and vivacious women.
So that’s the story of the two candles. One for me, and another later on in the day, for Marge. One to honor another year of life, and one a year of death, which eventually will come to us all. At the ultimate level, is there a difference, or are birth, life, and death just points on a continuum that stretches far beyond that we can not now comprehend? I leave that question to the philosophers and theologians, but really, I don’t think they have the answer any more than we number crunchers do.
For me, I am thankful I am where I am, and try to deal with each day as it comes along. My children are supportive, as are some of my old friends. My new friends from this summer, C.L. and daughter, have also been supportive and I realize that it is is still possible for me to form new and mutually valued relationships.
I want to close on an upbeat note, and to me, what could be more appropriate than Schiller’s poem, An Die Freude. Beethoven incorporated this poem in his famous 9th symphony. There are many versions of this song on the Internet, but I like this version. For one reason, it is sung first as a solo by a strong baritone voice. I may be slightly prejudiced, but since this is my story, the following is my choice. There are lyrics in both German and in English if you wish to sing along. (there is a short ad at first, but just click past that}