Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

--Mark Twain

On a recent Sunday in late August my wife turned 35 years of age. The subject of age has been on my mind ever since. This in itself would seem to indicate that age matters, and yet I cannot remember it mattering so much in the past. It certainly didn’t seem to make much of an impression when I myself turned 35 -- on me or on anyone else -- and so I’m wondering why the same number when achieved by my wife seems unusually significant. Is it my age that makes this number magical, or is it hers, or indeed is it ours in combination -- which would put us, together, at 93, and thus most likely together in the grave as well. Is she, therefore, by adding another year to her life, causing us to grow dangerously old? And if so, how can the process be stopped, or at least checked? By marrying a younger woman? I wonder. The math in favour of such a move would seem solid on the surface.

All this figuring, I might add, has taken a remarkable amount of mental effort, and the calculations have proven exhausting and frustrating to the point that I have returned again and again to this matter of ageing as somehow causative, casting suspicion anew on some detrimental association with the passage of my wife’s birthday.

Now, if there is a 23 year difference between my wife’s age and mine (which I believe there is), then when I myself was 35 my wife must have been 12. It seems a vast expanse, does it not? It also seems at least vaguely inappropriate. I think that we can all agree that a 12 year old female is yet a child, while a 35 year male has long been a man. Such arithmetic in this case would appear to point to unseemly, even evil sums; and yet the numbers themselves have not changed.

Clearly, therefore, a great and essential difference must exist between 12 and 35 as opposed to 35 and 58, despite the fact that the numbers in between are the same. How is this possible? I conclude that the true magic must lie in the number 23 rather than the number 35. In fact, it makes all the difference in the world. If you add 23 (the aforementioned magic number) to 58 (my present age), you will come up with 81, which seems a much farther cry from 58 than 58 is from 35 or 35 is from 12. Wouldn’t you agree?

Strangely, as I proceed in these possibly tortured computations, and light upon the number 23, that same number rings a little bell of its own, barely audible to be sure, such that I am inspired to look the thing up on the internet.

Twenty-three I find (and now remember too) is the title of a 2007 American film starring Jim Carey. The plot involves an obsession with the number 23, leading in turn, as do most all obsessions, to madness. Carey’s obsession is not an original invention of the character he plays. Rather it derives from a longstanding theory about the number itself, known as the 23 enigma, first popularized by novelist William S. Burroughs. On the most basic level, 23 is a prime number -- the ninth prime number, if you’re counting, and the smallest odd prime that is not a twin prime. Twenty-three is also the fifth factorial prime, the third Woodall prime, and it is an Eisenstein prime with no imaginary part and real part in the form of 3n - 1. Go figure that one out.

Nor does 23 limit itself to mathematical distinctions. We find it extending in seemingly odd ways to any number of disciplines, popping up Leprechaun-like in science, religion, music, sports, popular culture and so on.

What I personally conclude from this is that my own arrival at the number 23, given the computations above, is not so much an accident as it is an unearthing. Clearly the needful number was there from the outset, just waiting to be noted and extracted, like a key in a mound of coins or bottle caps. Moreover it is a happy discovery in that it places us individually in a youthful category, while combined we are still at the early border of middle age. In short, we are proven to be securely in our prime. For now, anyway. I guess there’s no telling what will happen should my wife decide to get older again next year.

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