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The Luckiest of Birthdays


To be alive is to be lucky. The odds of us being here are astronomical. In 2011, Dr. Ali Binazir published a piece that calculated the probability of you or me or anyone existing was 1 in 10(2,685,000). That’s 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeroes.

For perspective, the odds of winning a Powerball lottery is 1 in 175 million (that’s only 6 zeroes). The odds of getting dealt a Royal Flush in poker? About 1 in 39,000. In other words, the fact that you are sitting where you’re sitting reading these words is theoretically not possible. Or, if you’re a religious person — and I am not — you are the breathing, walking, real-life version of a miracle.

My little miracle manifested herself this summer on August 8. Clocking in at 8:59 in the morning, weighing 8 pounds 1 ounce. I asked my wife, as she was working hard (or, laboring, if you will) and with sweat pouring from her brow, if she would be able to push out our child at 8:08. I got yelled at. I just wanted our little humanoid to have as many 8s as possible.

When we found out my wife was pregnant and was due on August 11, I knew there’d be a remote chance that Cactus (that’s what we called her before we knew she was a her) would be born on August 8. I tried to bury that idea. I kept telling myself she would be born on any other day than the 8th because what are the odds? Why was I thinking this way?

Because August 8 is my birthday: August 8, 1978. Or, 08/08/78. Eight-Eight-Seventy Eight. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Naturally, my lucky number is 27. Kidding. It’s 8.

The association between numbers and superstition is arbitrary. Of course, superstition, by definition, is arbitrary. When it comes to how numbers affect us, we ignore reason. Just think of buildings that jump from the 12th floor to the 14th floor or how many couples got married on July 7, 2007 (07/07/07) “the most popular wedding day ever.” There’s something magical about numbers. We use them as talisman as we walk through life.

We ascribe all sorts of things to this number, sometimes even the meaning of life, the universe and everything. We become numerologists, getting excited at days like December 13, 2014 — which is the last sequential date in the 21st century (12/13/14). We’ve been doing this for a long, long time.

In Hebrew, the alphabet functions as gematria, a system of numerology that assigns a number value to a letter, word or phrase. In Judaism, the number 18 is important. The letters Het and Yud spell Chai, which means “life” or “alive.” The numerical version of Chai is 18; Het is 8 and Yud is 10. At moments of celebration — weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, births — Jews will often give gifts of money in multiples of 18 (or have 18 in the check — for example, someone gave me a check for 318.18 at my wedding) for luck.

The Chinese view 8 as the most fortunate of digits. Because 8 has a similar sound to the word “wealth” (Ba for 8; Fa for wealth), Chinese consider 8 to be a very lucky number. The superstition revealed itself in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The global sporting event kicked off at eight seconds past the eight minute of the eight hour on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eight year of the century. Or, at 8:08:08 on August 8, 2008 (08/08/08). I was getting ready for a big 30th birthday party at my parents’ house. I felt lucky. I still feel lucky. I’m a fan of 8s.

When our daughter was born two things became quickly evident: one, Cactus was a girl and two, we had to name Cactus.

I held her. I looked at her through my sobs and teary eyes. I brought her close to me and her name immediately came to mind. It would be Eight. Kidding. We named her after my grandfather, William.

Grandpa, who lived until he was 94, always reminded us that the most magical word — not number — is “hope.” He witnessed abject horror, as the Nazis decimated his family –my family. I look at my daughter, Willa, and think of how lucky she is, I am, we all are, to be here.

By all accounts 2014 was a garbage year, a year that engendered little hope. It was a year in which our collective society was unlucky. Perhaps 2015, which when you add up all the numbers equals 8, will be a much luckier year for everyone. One can hope.

This post first appeared on Medium

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.

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