Many years have gone my since an essay I wrote was published. I continue to be haunted by the values and virtues of numbers. They are in and out of my life, and today I give you this revision.
Of Numbers and Thirty-three Miners from Chile
The television screen was dark, and I knew all was right for the thirty-three miners rescued from the underworld of Chile after sixty-nine days. How curious: thirty-three, sixty-nine, perhaps nothing more than a series of threes. And yet how important were numbers for us? Aside from general accounting endeavors, I did not always pay attention to numbers and what they represented. The miners were safe and did not need my concerns, but numbers danced around me, prodding or rescuing something a long time swelling in the caches of my wandering mind.
I had witnessed something grand within the human spirit, and words such as endurance, gratitude and tenacity came to mind, but that was not all. I became aware of an unending order, an apparent requisite to the workings of the universe and humanity. My thoughts were not revolutionary; they were part of things left mostly unnoticed. Yet for thousands of years men knew of a golden order around, above and within each of us. The numbers related to Chilean miners were simply a trigger to pause, think and explore what was in front of me.
I turned my palms to the light with no recall of the last time I looked and examined the hands I used and abused without a thought, and certainly took for granted until I broke one. The smoothness of youth had given way to minute crevices, too many to count. Still, they were well serviceable, and I wondered how long since my last inspection. Was I a programmable machine using convenient implements I never noticed? My own digits had built a mountain of memories, too many to count today, but watching my hands was not a memory, it was a reality.
A feeling vague yet intense, if that is possible, happened when the television went dark. An inner light illuminated something for me to scrutinize. The motion of opening my hands was an aperture for viewing a world of identifiable and palpable mysteries. A cooperative unity with the universe granted me the seed to grow an idea. First I had to consider the unconventionality of my thinking; once done, an inventory followed. The exploration of archetypical numbers began. With no conscious intention, I began to explore what I found to be key to something greater than ten fingers attached to my open hands.
Obliging the caprices of my psyche, my palms gave me an accounting long known by others. I gazed at each hand, and knew the unfolding of time had not changed their particular attributes. The finding was obvious, four fingers and a thumb on each end of my arms. The number ten reminded me of sequences used the world over: 100, 1000, ad infinitum! The rescued miners did not have much to do about my unearthing of my mental gesticulation.
I counted the phalanges, (boned sections) of each of finger and a door opened wide – the pointer had three phalanges as did the other fingers. Had I found where a dozen came from? I questioned the person closest to me at the time. Did he know these things? Tired, he answered that he did not know and never looked for what I was looking for. He added that he, too, never paid too much attention to his hands. Must be a human thing, I thought. My mind, however, was not resting; a journey had started, and I was not going to abandon ship.
I marveled at the education I received as a youngster. One of my tutors used my body to teach me order, world history, mathematics and what he called sacred geometry. He was at war with my mind and was determined to win. War, every time I saw his face, war! Today I smiled, thinking about this man born to torment me. Always insisting numbers were the laws by which the universe worked, Mr. Jacques Malaise made my youth a nightmare, and he won the war.
I spoke French at that time and now gave a thought to my fingers. L’index, perhaps to turn the pages and to point to a direction I could not see. Le majeur, the longer, taller finger, the word translating well especially well when addressing the Major of the armies fighting wars outside of my investigation. Then I remembered that in America we use this finger for a certain gesture. I played with l’annulaire, the one which received the annau, the ring I wear. I could not come up with much utility for this finger perhaps it was made to remind me I was married, the one with real purpose I could not forget, the little finger. L’auriculaire, the one made to stick into the ear for cleaning. This thought brought me laugher; Mr. Malaise reminded me again and again to unplug my ears. My exploration was by no means over; I could not let the dormant le pousse be ignored. My thumb – made to push on, to give the OK in arenas of Rome. My thumb was up, and I could continue with one finger dependent upon the others to use as a whole, perhaps for the greater good and used, also, for all the things waiting to be grabbed.
With twelve phalanges in hand, so to speak, I surmised that they are the basis for dozens, inches and feet. The examination of my hand continued and I remembered my thumb and its three phalanges; the first and second are obvious, the third bone attaches the thumb almost to the wrist. I now had a total of fifteen segments.
All this was nothing more extraordinary to me than a bunch of folding bones forming a particular number. Not so, my mind told me; it sounded much like the voice of Mr. Malaise. “All is in order,” he would have said, “notice the numbers, and you will find great mysteries waiting exploration.” So notice I did, explore I continued. One must smile when one finds out that the source of irritation during youth is a gift to be unwrapped decades later with care and appreciation. My dozen gave up its mystery, but my fifteen forgot to tell me how important it was, but that was temporary.
The Middle East, particularly Mesopotamia, did not enter my awareness immediately, too busy using my hands and paying attention to digits. I needed to clear my mind and look at the various gifts received from the universe. The only way to get there was to find out more.
With an interest in all things Eastern, the fifteen brought to mind that a Hindu month had fifteen days and that each month corresponded to a phase of the moon. Their calendar year contained 360 days – no month with extra days. I remember the lesson well, I was nine at the time, and I decided to watch the moon every night for however long it would take; an eternity it appeared to have been. I had to prove my tutor wrong, he was talking nonsense, I was sure of it. It was worth it to me at that point in time but, alas, it did not happen. The moon changed its face as prescribed by the number fifteen. I did not know then that my Julian calendar followed the travels of the sun and gave me Easter and leap years.
To confuse me further, in the Islamic world they keep prayer order by counting the fifteen knuckles on each hand, the thumb having three knuckles as suggested above. To that is added the tip of the little, ring and middle finger of the right hand, giving them the magic number of thirty three. An easy task once they learned to recite the ninety-nine attributes of Allah.
Thinking of such things brought me to explore the messengers of the cosmos for the sky was clear, no night lights, and stars twinkled. What a wondrous sight! Two hands made my calculation easy, I had twenty-eight obvious knuckles, and, being a woman, I knew my natural menstruating functions were on a twenty-eight day cycle. How curious, I thought, remembering the moon and its voyages took twenty-eight days. I knew the sun’s division of time had a twenty-eight year circle. What was all this about?
Then the cosmos came crashing down, the geometry, the numbers, and order connecting the cosmos made me dizzy. I closed my eyes, and the next memory rushed in: I wanted to learn the piano. I had great ambitions, no time for tenacity and had never heard the word patience. One morning a piano arrived, a teacher followed. In my mind I was to become the next Chopin or Herby Hancock, an American I had heard a thousand times. Teaching me do re mi was to be his syllabus, instead he showed me that there was a relation between the eighty-eight keys, and three and four and seven were part of this universal equation I still did not understand. He told me I would find out that the octaves of scaling related to the octaves of human hearing. But all I wanted was to learn to play like the American jazz man, and I was not interested in octaves.
It became evident to my family that piano lessons were not going to help me with my imaginary jazz career. The piano soon made room for another piece of furniture my mother made better use of. She played the violin and understood numbers and octaves. Me, I developed a simple need to hear music and understood that the playing needed to go to those who appreciated what I could not grasp.
The fascination about relations between body parts, the cosmos, and a bunch of miners in Chile kept my mind occupied. I had witnessed a rescue that in turn triggered memories of unspecified materials learned or heard about years before. I realized that numbers were an integral part of the physical me and, perhaps, the spiritual me was to discover these things at another time.
Evidence that numbers were all around me and knowing I had never paid attention to them, I began counting bits and pieces of me and everything immediately within my reach. Made of the stuff of divine origin, proportions in man and the cosmos told me I was onto something, and so were the people that built pyramids and so on.
The news about the miners came and went, but my hands and what I found remained to tell me there is and was an order that comes with numbers and one does not need to be a mathematician to find them fascinating, especially when one finds them in the very construction of the body.
Each number I examined seemed to have come from or with something prearranged, and one could use pages to explore them. Many books have been written about the value of numbers, and while we often think of them in the organization of dollars and cents, they are there surveying our every move.
I was not looking into the various calendars of the ancient world when I thought again about the trapped miners, in the ‘underworld’ of Chile. Thirty-three miners, three side by side, was easier to deal with than to count my digits and knuckles. Was it humor or coincidence when I learned that the universe orchestrated something to keep me occupied? Man is born with thirty-three vertebras.
While Plato said that geometry was the knowledge of the eternally existent, Marcel Proust a novelist felt that the real voyage of discovery consisted not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. I had perhaps opened both my eyes.
Never satisfied, I opened my arms to the heavens, spread my legs apart and had a conversation with Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvius man. I was a circle, I was a square. I could make angles and, to top it all, the golden proportion of my navel broke my body in half. Proportionately the same condition happened as my chin to my brows divided my face. I had to adhere to these proportions when I drew my first nude. I already knew that from the tip of my fingers to my elbow, I would find the golden mean proportion at my wrist. Phi they called it. From my shoulder to my brows, from my nose to the top of my head, repeated was this interesting ratio. My hand replicated this progression, my findings went on, and I realized I was all about numbers and their attributes.
Did we have four seasons by accident, was I sitting on a chair with four legs, and is the table holding my computer a square? Do we humans fit in a circle but understand our world only when it is squared off.
Numbers are still lingering like dust particles in my mind. As the Chilean miners rescue effort materialized, I heard that seven men were to go down. I could not help but think of Genesis and the Sabah, that seventh day. I allowed my eyes to visit the sky, and I saw the seven sisters, the constellation named the Pleiades. I know science and mathematics find many roots in Greece but my mind took another direction. I examined some Sanskrit text and found the seven chakras, the first one being at the tail, the root, the portal, the Kundalini, the Chilean mine, the underground. How interesting that the chakras came with the colors of a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet – seven colors. What was going on when my mind was counting or travelling from the hanging gardens known as the seventh wonder of the world to the seven colors of a rainbow?
Seven men went underground, and with the help of many more above, they helped with one of the most heroic, non-violent rescues I had ever witnessed. Pulled from a symbolic birthing canal, thirty-three men with thirty-three vertebras experienced a rebirth as the phoenix rose, and one area of their body after the other departed from the mine. From the root, the sacral followed, the solar plexus, the heart, the throat, the third eye area and finally the crown had left the underground.
The men from Chile provided me a golden mean to peruse divine order or coincidence. It is now clear to me that whether we know it or not, we are a juxtaposition of numbers. These numbers can also be used to advance civilization.
It appears, among the builders of the United States, Masonic Masons knew something about numbers. In Washington D.C. at the Freemasonry House of the Temple, there are 33 outer columns which are 33 feet high.