Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The magic number


That is about the number of stitches in your average small-gauge hand-knit sock. Give or take a few hundred. I made a pair (that’s approximately 32,990 stitches for the pair) for my Dad last Christmas. I didn’t stop to think about the number of stitches. I simply cast on to those tiny needles and went for it.


That is slightly less than the distance, in feet, of a 5k footrace. I’ve only run one. It was with my Mom a few years back. We ran the Freeze Your Fanny 5k that is held in Lewiston, Idaho every February. Honestly, it wasn’t that cold, though it was odd. A cowboy poetry festival was being held at our hotel. There were handlebar mustaches everywhere. I think I may have even seen one on a woman in the lobby. I didn’t stop to think about how many feet we would cover in the race. I just laced up the shoes and set off on the course.


If actuarial estimates are to be believed, this is roughly the number of days I have left in my life. Give or take a few hundred. It isn’t a small number, but I wouldn’t mind if it were bigger.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this number over the last few weeks. We had a death in our family three days ago. My Mother’s sister. She had been ill for some time, but I think we all expected that she would recover.

I made her a scarf for Christmas this past year. I expected to post photos of her wearing it, along with a brief account of how she once tried to teach a Siamese cat how to roll dice so that the two of them could play board games together. But with her illness we never got around to taking the photos. Now it is too late.

If, when she were my current age, she’d had 16,495 days left, she’d still be with us today. She wasn’t so fortunate, however. If I only live to her age, then I’ll lose out on about 6,200 of those days. You wouldn’t be satisfied running 3.3k of a 5k race, or knitting just two-thirds of a sock.

I have a friend and colleague who practices in estate planning. She says she helps people prepare for the inevitable. We’re all heading to that point, or so she says. She’s probably right.

The troubling thing to me isn’t that we are all heading down that path, however. The troubling thing is that none of us really know just how long it will take to make the journey. I recall reading once that Charlie Munger said the bit of knowledge he wanted most was to know where he was going to die. When asked why, he answered that it was so he could avoid going there.

Almost two weeks before her death, my aunt had extensive surgery. She knew it would be difficult, and that there were significant risks. She spent the day before the procedure sitting quietly in my living room, chatting with family and watching my sons play. I hope that she enjoyed that time; she never left the hospital after the procedure.
The cliché response of course, like some kind of ill-advised motivational poster hanging outside an office cubicle, is to want to be certain that you live each day like it might be your last.
This is a bad plan.

If I were to live each day like it were my last, I’d probably spend a fair amount of it gorging myself on donuts and pork rinds. The remainder would be spent engaging in various types of high risk activities. While this behavior might be momentarily satisfying, it seems likely that it would only increase the chances that you end up with two-thirds, or perhaps even one-half, of a completed sock.

I think it may be better if I spend some portion of each day focusing on those things around me that enhance daily life. Things that comfort, like the soft caress of Mrs. TSMK’s hand on my shoulder as we drift off to sleep. Unexpected moments of beauty, as when flowered perfume wafts from a beautiful stranger as she and I stand side by side and wait for the cross-walk symbol to change. Things that serve no purpose but to provide joy, such as the frenzied four-legged dancer that greets me every evening when I return home from work.
That is how I will spend my days. In the knowledge that they are numbered, but with the commitment to make each of them memorable in some small way.


1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful way to live.... That will make me think for a long time. Sorry for your loss.