Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Number Thirty-Two

Occasionally someone asks me, "What's your favorite number?"

You know, like we are supposed to be partial to an amount.  I favor a quantity.  I heart a point in an order.  I have an intense connection with an integer. 

But it is not so hard a question for me to answer.  My number is 32.  I've known it is "my" number since about the age of 13 when, at a summer camp for boys, it kept appearing to me.  Or rather, I was attuned to it.  Whatever.  I just kept seeing it everywhere.  After a while, my cabin-mates would tease me about it.  They kept seeing me see it.  On lists, on packaging, in prices, on road signs, in books, in winning scores, etc.  Maybe a few of those manifestations were camp pranks on their part, but not all of them. 

And then the big summer finale: the last night of camp was a "banquet."  Not exactly formal (boys' summer camp, remember?), but still a little more pomp for the circumstance.  And on the table-setting placard, there it was: The camp was celebrating its 32nd summer of operation.  Creepy, eh?

Okay, maybe not.  There are such things as coincidence and serendipity.  The occurances of 32 faded after that summer, but I knew from then on that I had an association with a number.  It became my go-to answer for "what's your favorite number?" or "pick a number?" And, as it turns out, it is a powerful number to have associations with.

First, some math:  32 is 2 to the power of 5.  It is both twice a square (16) and half a square (64).  It is half a square (again, 8 to the power of 2) and half a cube (4 to the power of 3).  It is the sum of the first three positive integers raised to the power of themselves.  It is also a Leyland number, since it is a possible answer to the equation x to the power of y plus y to the power of x.  And finally, it is a happy number, which is a bit more difficult to explain but, you know, I'm happy it's happy.

Then there are the mystical associations with the number 32.  In some traditions, 32 C.E. is considered the year Christ was crucified.  In the Kabbalah, God is said to have made the world in 32 phases.  Hence, in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, there are 10 emanations (Sephiroth) and 22 paths between them resulting in the number 32 -- the paths are usually numbered starting at 11, so the last path ("Tau") is the 32nd path.  In several psychic practices, the 32nd Path is considered a link between the physical and astral plane and is the route shamen and psychics take to practice extra sensory perception. 32 is also considered the occult opposite of 23, another powerful number about which whole books and films (bad ones...with Jim Carey!) have been made. 

32 is the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit that water freezes at sea level.  It is half of a chess/checker board, representing your home territory.  It is the number of completed and numbered piano sonatas by Ludwig von Beethoven.  It is the size of a databus it bits (i.e. 32-bit), and so carries some significance for computer graphics and programmers.  It is the number of teeth in an adult human, including "wisdom" teeth.  It is the number of pages in the average comic book (not including the cover). 

Yeah, yeah.  It's a number.  And numbers line up with things in the universe.  And this one lined up with me when I was 13.  So maybe that is, well, "lucky."  Maybe that is a reason to favor it.

After that summer, I didn't really think much of it until I approached the age of 32.  I worried that I had been given some sort of cryptic premonition.  Was I gonna die?  Make my fortune?  Change the world?  Only, my 32nd year came and went and nothing really momentous happened.  Soon, I put it out of my mind again.

And then, well, lately I've been seeing 32s again.  Noting them.  They catch my eye.  And mostly I wonder, what's that about?  Visiting UNT in Denton, TX this last week, a fellow artist/scholar suggested a comic book I should read: "Promethea" by Alan Moore.  This was just a friendly suggestion for a good comic; we hadn't been discussing my number mysticism.  There are purposely 32 issues of this comic.  And it discusses various occult traditions, including the 32nd Path.  And when I read this gorgeous and smart comic, I thought, "Oh wow, here it is again."  Only this time the numerical manifestation was a little more charged; this time it came with some meaning attached.  Not exactly answers, really, but a little more confirmation of the number's relevance in mysticism and art.

Maybe it is odd for a 45 year-old man to have a favorite number.  Maybe it is odder still to see cryptic messages from the universe in a comic book.  But then I realized: It's been 32 years since that summer when the number 32 came to me.  So, me?  I'm listening!  And I am looking for the path.  Outside tonight, the temperature is falling to the freezing point and the first winter precipitation is sticking to the trees.  And I feel a little bit like half a square and half a cube.  And God help me, this number does make me happy!