There’s a good argument to be made that if Aryabhata, the great Indian astronomer of the 6th century, had not invented the zero, I would not be typing on this computer, you would not be using the Internet, and we’d all be living in medieval conditions. Without the zero, higher mathematics, computer languages, modern technology, and so much more would be inconceivable. The zero is the most important number in existence.
Beyond the societal implications of the zero, it’s generally one of the more important numbers in our personal lives. We celebrate our zeros. Any event numbered with a zero is special: 10th anniversaries, 40th birthdays, 50th reunions, and the like. It’s hard to get anyone excited about a 24th birthday or a 16th annual class reunion. But slap a zero on a celebration and you can fill the house with fanfare and frivolity.
I am now in my 60th year, but expect no special parties and certainly no big gifts. I had my big birthday blowout when I turned 40 and have been around long enough to have collected enough material comforts.
I plan to celebrate by attempting some cycling goals. I’d like to take a half dozen 100 kilometer (60 mile) rides. And I am hoping to take a 200 km (120 mile) ride later this summer. If my body can do these things, it will be celebration enough for me.
Turning 60, more than with any zero year birthday I’ve had, my thoughts turn to my own mortality. I will die. And soon, relative to my birth year. When you turn 50 you can trick yourself into thinking you’ll live to see 100. But at 60, there’s no fooling yourself that you’ll make it to 120.
Fact is, while I’ve always been a bike rider, it wasn’t until I turned 50 that I became a dedicated cyclist. I bought a serious road bike and got a mountain bike as well so I could ride in almost all conditions. Like many people I increased my devotion to cycling to improve my health and, let’s be honest, to keep the Grim Reaper at bay.
Shedding a few pounds, adding some muscle, and improving my lung capacity was my strategy to live longer. There was nothing original in my thinking, but it offered a glimmer of hope that, barring some unforeseen accident, I would “not go gentle into that good night.” Foolish pride, I know.
Realistically, this will be the last zero year birthday that I can celebrate with these kinds of lofty (for me) cycling goals. Time is too ruthless of a companion to cut me much slack. I’ll be happy to lift my leg over a bike frame should I reach my 70th year. Maybe I’ll get a raucous party instead. Nice, I suppose, but not the same.
© Mark Everett Hall 2011