Lost like Bost and Hilbert and Jacobson

6 out of 129.  Six out of one hundred and twenty-nine.  Sam did the math in his head.  About 4.65%.  Not even five percent.  Less than five percent.  He wondered if he was in that group, then he realized there were four sets of strings of pearls.  That would be 16 out of 545.  The law of large numbers didn’t apply just because there were more, at least not in this case.  With a constant pattern and no outliers, the math didn’t change.  Six out of 129 didn’t fit in.  They weren’t part of a complete string diagonally.  He wondered about being part of a group, being an outsider and knowing it.  Knowing was the most difficult part.

In high school they took his calculator away.  They told him he could only have it two hours a night, and never at the dinner table.  They told him he needed to be part of the conversation.  His dad had said one time, “Part of the world” but mom had put a hand on dad’s arm and given that stern look he recognized.  Dad had stopped but Sam knew, perhaps for the first time, how he did not fit.  Although he couldn’t verbalize or even grasp it then.  He was part of the six.  Still, he loved the numbers.

He was happier then.  Even with the taunts and the names: freak, weirdo, dweeb, nerd, spaz, all with any number of four-letter words beginning or interspersed within. He was happier.  He didn’t know the path ahead.  He had numbers.  He had the math.  And it was enough.  Gradually, over the years, he learned.  He began to understand the others, not nearly as good as the numbers, but better.

Like a sociologist or psychologist or some sort of weird archaeologist he dug into them, the 123, the part that he was not.  At some point, today he couldn’t remember when, he gave up trying to fit in.  He gave up caring at all about them.  He began to care only about him.  It all added up.  He solved it.  It was just him and the math and through study; he learned their ways.

Caring less allowed objectivity and social things unfolded like some sort of algebraic equation.  4x + 3y = z, where z would equal his first real friend.  The variables weren’t hard back then, after all they were just high school kids.  Once he solved for z he set his sights on other things.  He solved for f and earned a varsity letter.  He solved for r and had a girlfriend he loved.  And on rare occasions he solved for c and talked easily with his father.  But the variables were always there and often he found the equations, even when solved, were quadratic, leaving him with nothing.

Despite his improving proficiency he realized now; he had been using their math.  That was the knowing now.  That was the realization and the ache that left him feeling like no one used the same math he did.  Like he was some sort of beautiful mind, incomprehensible, frightening and isolated.  He denied it most days but today it was in front of him and he could not look away as he stared and stared at the pattern and considered the six.  Did the other five know?

Today at the City Mission so many came forward for free stuff.  Some limped or shuffled, some had strange speech and some spoke different languages or looked altogether bewildered by the world around them.  Did they know their difference?  He hoped not.  He couldn’t know about them, what went on in their minds, just like no one could know by looking at him where his infirmities lay.  He was certain some had been marginalized.  He was sure some had been maligned by the world, their peers, perhaps their families for their shortcomings, where they didn’t fit in.

His heart broke for them then and now, except now he knew that these, these, were his people.  He wasn’t sure if they represented nearly 5 percent and he didn’t care about that math.  He cared about whether they knew someone cared.  He was confident some probably couldn’t comprehend what it meant to be on the edges even though they felt it.  Just like he knew they could feel compassion and love.  He wondered if their inabilities mattered to them.  Or had they turned their backs on the others, the 123, as he had so long ago.  He envied them in some ways.  Theirs was a clear and visible shortfall, a visible difference.  His was not although he used it every day.

The numbers had carried him through college and grad school and into a career.  The analysis he performed every day at his job, the same analysis he used to solve for all those variables years ago, had led him into marriage and fatherhood even into a semblance of leadership.  His compulsion to solve the equations, figure out the variables had resulted in some success.  The answers, sometimes haltingly, had come to him.

Certainly there had been setbacks, there always were in solving any problem.  Highly erratic variables like teenagers, girls, women and sex often threw him for a loop.  He had to double back, sometimes repeatedly and fall back, occasionally and he failed sometimes.  Those were the most painful.  Except for right now, and being part of the six.  More than anything he wished he could find just one of the five but he knew that was highly improbable.

Finding one of the other five of his subset meant he was looking for .775% of the whole group.  Less than one percent of the population.  This was the reality, to even find one more like him or at least sort of like him meant he would have to go through at least 24 people assuming he happened upon one of the five in pure mathematical fashion.  All this without being able to see anything from their outward appearance.  All this with his social challenges.  The five wouldn’t stutter, they wouldn’t walk with an unusual gait, they wouldn’t necessarily be ugly or beautiful, no.  To be like him, to be part of their six, he or she would have to appear normal.  The math, the probability, left him shaking his head.  It seemed as unlikely as the acceptance he had turned his back on in his teens.  The prospect left him empty and lonely and wondering once again as he had so many years ago.  What was the point?  Perhaps it was the math, the ever-present math.

He could continue to solve the problems.  He enjoyed that.  He could continue to be himself.  He could continue to use their math.  With all his years of study and practice he could continue to function and thrive in many ways.  Accepting his singularity, his out-thereness, was something he had done before, would probably do again.  But today, being part of the six, was an unsolvable problem no math would touch.

We’re all out there sometimes.  Lost in our thoughts and our theories about how to be a part of the crowd.  Sometimes, there just aren’t answers.

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