They say, “age is just a number,” but I disagree. Numbers are not at all like age. Numbers are objective and unbiased. They do not carry the weight of emotion. Sometimes they are invisible, sometimes they are imaginary, sometimes they are represented by letters (another code of semantics, a topic for a different day), but whatever they are, age certainly is not.
Of course we all have feelings about numbers. We have favorite numbers or lucky numbers or numbers that feel right or appear repeatedly in our lives. Some of us have aversions to certain numbers. There are Godly numbers, numbers in which bad things happen or people die. Many of us catch a glimpse of the clock at precisely the same time on a regular basis. Whether these things are controlled by a greater force, or simply the great force of our own belief, is neither here nor there. The point is, I love even numbers. For some reason it seems to me that most people prefer odd numbers or prime numbers for their uniqueness. A number that cannot be split evenly is definitive. But I have always found myself drawn to numbers like 2 and 4. Small, round, perfectly symmetrical numbers that divide easily and multiply into more familiar and comfortable numbers.
Perhaps this comes from a childhood full of “Sorry!” tournaments in which drawing a “2” meant you got to draw again and, when planned correctly, drawing a “4” meant you got to back straight into your safety zone, skipping the course of the entire board. The odd numbers were not nearly as exciting. Number 11 (a prime) was an anticlimactic card you always drew when what you really wanted was a Sorry! It didn’t actually allow you to wipe out your opponent, but simply trade places with him. Drawing a 7 was only worthwhile if you had two pawns perfectly distanced from both your “home” and each other, and otherwise, was a waste of a special card. My favorite square on the board was exactly 8 squares away from “home,” right on the corner in a very aesthetically pleasing position. In my strange little right-centric, 7-year-old brain, even numbers were simply the most pleasing and palatable.
The other rather strange thing about me was that at a young age I decided it was too difficult to choose favorites and therefore I hadn’t any. When you’re five all anyone wants to know is your favorite color or your favorite food. As you get older new friends are interested in what your favorite music is or your favorite movie. Intellectuals want you to choose a favorite book and every time I tell people I’m an actor they want to know who my favorite actor or actress is. I always prescribed to the philosophy that different things are good for different situations. My favorite color to wear is not my favorite color to paint my walls. My favorite music to dance to is not my favorite music to fall asleep to and how on earth can I pick a favorite food when so much of it tastes so good?
As my friends started to turn 24 around the end of last year and into this year, I thought, “well 24 is not so different from 23.” My two closest friends are both 9 months older than I am, yet they at 24 and myself at 23 were going through similar experiences in life, dealing with the same age-appropriate issues. I kept thinking as my own 24th birthday approached that there was so little difference between the two ages, and that, at 24, I would still be very young. When my birthday arrived, as birthdays are wont to do, 24 felt like nothing at all. Yesterday and today and tomorrow are all the same, until they are far away and become the distant past. Then I got a birthday text message from a friend that read, “happy birthday, do you feel nice and even now?” And at that moment I remembered: 24 is my favorite number! Of all the many things of which I could choose a favorite, the only favorite I ever settled on was a number. Twenty four is a wonderfully round, comfortable number. It is greatly divisible, it is the number of hours in a day, double the number of months in a year, and it is the marriage of my two favorite cards in “Sorry!” My whole life, 24 is the only favorite I could ever settle on and now it also represents my age! But I had never until this point associated my age with my feelings about this number. My age was a very different thing, it did not represent roundness or balance, in fact, quite the opposite. Twenty-four is a time of career uncertainty, financial instability and romantic frustration.
It was only after my friend’s wonderfully (if unknowingly) insightful text that I gained a little perspective. If age is just a number, and a favorite number at that, then this year may not be so bad after all. And if I ever start feeling uneasy about my age, I’ll just refer to it as x.