A little Latin is a dangerous thing. Once you start realizing where words come from, you’ll never be able to utter a sentence again without thinking about what these words ‘really’ mean. I, who have acquired more than a little Latin, am a linguistic terrorist. I blow up entire sentences, leaving verbal debris.

More often, though, I just run around in circles, chasing an elusive insight through the tangled underbrush of meaning.

For example, I started this morning with the word ‘identity.’ We talk about identities being stolen, when what we really mean is numbers have been stolen, particularly that unique identifying string of digits we call a Social Security number. Society is much more secure now that we all have numbers.

Except when they are stolen. If I lose my identity, I am no longer unique. Possessing this, another person can steal other bits of my life — credit card numbers, checking account numbers, passwords.

But ‘uniqueness’ can’t actually be stolen, since what truly makes us all unique is DNA. Unless you’ve been cloned, no one has DNA identical to yours.

Linguistic point of order: No one is more unique than anyone else, or any less unique. That’s because unique is an absolute. You either are, or you’re not.

If we’re all unique, then none of us is really special. More


There are only sixteen of us, if you believe the Myers-Briggsians. Or nine, if you’re a numerologist (not including 11 and 22). Or twelve, for those who subscribe to astrology. There are many other ways to count, but this writer is not familiar with all of them.

The sad sum of all this is that no matter how desperately we want to believe we’re unique, we’re not.

It has been said that there are three types of mathematicians: those who can count, and those who can’t. I am the third type. I can count, but I distrust the answer.

License plates, room numbers, book numbers, dates, tickets — all of these things are small peeks into the great infinity. Most of the time, though, I don’t understand how they add up, or what I ought to do about them. So far I have never based any major decisions on those random numerical occurrences, but it gives me something to think about when things aren’t going well.

Our house number reduces to the number seven, an auspicious number for mystics and hermits. Our last house was eight, the number of success. We were poor while living in that house. In our present home, we are far from mystical. Perhaps we are not obeying the vibrations the universe is sending out to us.

While not mystical myself, I have respect for things that don’t easily tally up. The basic physical laws of the universe could be summarized on a few index cards and neatly filed in a drawer. But there must be more cards out there waiting to be catalogued, more drawers waiting to be filled.

The universe must vibrate. There are infinite ways to count it.

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