Crow’s Feet
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Crow’s Feet

Birthdays Ending With A Zero

Another looms for an anonymous friend

There is no evidence the finger deforming the icing was that of the Author, who took this photo.

There are no guarantees of life beyond the present moment. One might find this thought sobering, while another might use it as the point of embarkation for tangential thinking.

Being in the latter camp, flush with the realization it’s time to reflect upon the significance of integer-times-ten birthdays, the following is presented. And input is solicited from my good friend Gail, who may or may not have an advantaged perspective on the situation.

So, Gail, what do you think about folks who get their knickers in a knot over certain birthdays? Are these “X0” birthdays really all that important? Aren’t there numerous other birthdays of greater significance?

Are Birthdays significant?

Stepping back, are birthdays in general worth observing?

Yes. Particularly from the fruit fly perspective, a trip around the sun is quite an accomplishment. And even a tortoise can rejoice in another year of avoiding becoming a meal for a predator. Mammals should also feel good for similar reasons.

Even if each year is worth noting, are some accumulations of years more notable than others? Are some worth special attention?

Are Some Birthdays More Important Than Others?

Perhaps. Particularly as influenced by one’s culture. Thinking back, way back, birthdays numbered 16, 18, 19, and 21 seem extremely important due to the conventions of American society.

Sixteen meant one could drive a car, or at least get a permit to drive one, assuming parents were amenable to the mixed blessing of mobile teen offspring. But well more than the opportunity to learn to drive, the birthday was regarded as the harbinger of personal independence. There was no greater declaration than pulling into a friend’s driveway, honking the horn, and saying, “Hop in!”

Quite some time ago, completing one’s 18th year meant, “Hello alcohol! This day I can buy you, legally.” Another mixed blessing, or an outright curse, depending upon many factors not limited to genetics. To the lament of many college professors, this milestone has changed to 21. Legal initiation to consumption comes later, without the restraint provided by the specter of parental supervision.

The ancient males among us received a draft number during our 19th year. For most, being assigned a number in the “Free trip to Vietnam” lottery was a harrowing experience. Even if one was fortunate, and received a high number signifying escape from the draft, there would be friends who were not so lucky. The reactions ran the spectrum from patriotic embracement to stoic acceptance to abject fear. It was not a happy time.

For those who served, there is nothing but respect and appreciation for your courage, selflessness, and sacrifice. But there is little but contempt for those who supported their own lies and agendas by putting you in harm’s way.

Also back in those years shrouded by the mists of time was an additional significance for one’s 21st birthday. Reaching that milestone meant one could vote in the next election. No longer would one be old enough to carry a gun through the jungles of Vietnam without having some small say on who put you there.

The 26th Amendment moved this rite of passage to one’s 18th birthday. Interesting how a changing US society has determined that 18-year-olds can bear the responsibility for voting, but not for purchasing alcohol. My, how the reasons for emigrating to Canada (19 is the drinking age) have shifted.

The discussion of legal drinking age versus gun purchase age is left for another time.

The Long Gap

For all those fortunate to have reasonable health and live in a non-violent environment, passing 21 meant a long hiatus on significant birthdays. It was not that there was no significance, but rather that the accumulation of any particular number of years changed little for you, Gail. What one could do on the day before the birthday was not much different than on the day after.

Important Once Again

Then the number of birthdays became important once again, for financial reasons. In the US of A, 59-and-1/2, 62, 65, and 67 (or thereabouts) come to mind as dates of importance.

If you were lucky and smart enough to have been putting money away through your time in the workforce, 59-and-1/2 provided access to one’s 401K savings without penalty. Of course, that’s never really true since there is always the penalty of paying taxes on that income. But if ya need it, ya need it.

For funds for which you had no prior ability to access, 62 is the annum to collect income from the Social Security Administration. Not the full benefit, but you can get a good chunk of change even though not at full retirement age, somewhere between 66 and 67.

Do You Feel Lucky?

So upon reaching 62, run the spreadsheet and play American Roulette. Try to determine what is the best age to begin collecting Social Security payments. Assuming the fund remains solvent, of course.

To simplify the game, all you have to know is the date of your death. Then it’s easy to know if you should collect less now, or collect more later. Do you feel lucky?

Of course, all of this is moot if you are still working a good-paying job or if you’re already dead.

Medicare eligibility and full retirement age sure seem more important than a birthday with a zero. Particularly since the zero business is arbitrary.

X0 Birthdays are arbitrary!

Are you still with the train of thought here, Gail? If so, please bear it a little longer as we descend into (Gasp!) mathematics.

If we only had eight fingers on two symmetrical hands, and our number system was based on this count, what we term 70 would be called 86.

And if we had 12 fingers, what we describe as 70 years of age would be called something like 5A, with “A” being a representation of what we now call “ten.”

Got it? Nevermind. Just read on.

A better method?

Perhaps it would be better to count age in terms of distance traveled instead of time elapsed. How about distance traveled around the sun?

149,600,000 km is the length of the Earth’s orbit. But that’s such an Earthian measure. Much better to use some constant not linked to the size of a planet, since we’re measuring travel through space.

At ten-finger-age 70, at 499 light seconds per orbit, one will have traveled 34,930 light seconds in ten-finger numbers.

That’s quite an accomplishment. A lot of light seconds. Bowing to our obsession with round numbers, let’s call it 35K light seconds.

So what’s the point?

While each trip around the sun is significant, how the count is measured is arbitrary. So all this fuss and consternation about a particular cumulative number with a zero on the end is pointless.

Rejoice at completing each circuit, which is a real physical achievement, and if you must keep score, do it with a grain of salt.

So ignore the fact you’re going around in circles and have a happy 35K birthday, Gail!



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Randy Fredlund

Randy Fredlund

I Write. Hopefully, you smile. Or maybe think a new thought. Experiences and observations are presented in words and images.