The number eighteen, I’m told, is important in Judaism. The reason for this is because words in Hebrew have numerical values, and the Hebrew word for life, “chai”, has a numerical value of eighteen.
Looking back on my own life, the number eighteen can easily symbolize “life” for me as well. The year I was eighteen, which spanned my freshman and sophomore years in high school, was certainly a year when I was filled with life, if for no other reason than it was bookended by seventeen and nineteen, which were years focused on death for very different reasons. The year I was seventeen was the year of my major suicide attempt, the year I felt so broken and guilty that I came within inches of taking my own life. And the year I was nineteen, well…that’s a different story entirely, and I’ll talk about that tomorrow.
But eighteen, oh eighteen. Just a few weeks away from my stay in the mental hospital after my suicide attempt, I got my ear pierced on my eighteenth birthday. Then I headed home for my very first college Christmas break. Christmas break was such a magical time of year. Almost an entire month, filled with relaxation and hanging out with friends, sleeping in until noon and staying out until 4:00 am. That first Christmas break was the time I fell in love with Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits, and started listening to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” about 140 times a day for months. (Eric, if you’re reading this, so sorry.)
Eighteen was also the year that Pink Floyd released The Division Bell, and I attended my very first concert, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. I can’t really say my concert experiences have improved since then — it’s pretty hard to top Pink Floyd. Eighteen was the year I got my first summer job, in a microfilm factory, and I remember being amazed that people could work like this day in, day out, for their whole lives. God bless them. They make the world go round, but it’s hard.
Eighteen was also the first year I really started writing. I wrote my first songs. I wrote an insane final paper for my freshman seminar that somehow earned me an A. I wrote hundreds and hundreds of emails. I wrote words like this:
A poet’s words
Exchanged for gold
May be a fair trade
When words get old
The sun above
After the humankind
The end of time
Take my thoughts
Hide them in your mind
Then look for me there
And love you will find
And like this:
As I wander alone amidst the grass and minefields within my mind, I notice that there are two sorts of actions going on…I notice thinking waves flying past me in long, straight beams of light. I notice feeling waves floating past me in symphonies of music and sound. They all flitter through the unsuspecting synapses and enter my soul. As I watch these waves, I notice that they move up and down in sine patterns, in perfect synchronization with each other, and with my own soul. But they are not actually synchronized; rather, they move with different speeds and through different media to arrive at the same point. But as all of the different patterns add up, I notice that they merge with each other to form what I now see at the centre, a brilliantly lit, yet perfectly formed sphere.
Ah, eighteen. A year I felt like I was waking up. A year I felt like I was alive. To life!