“There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousands truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.”
Henry Ward Beecher
Ten thousand truths. The depth, expressed by such a large number, indicates the author’s exasperation with our disturbingly persistent deafness to joys that could be.
I love the subtle quality that quantities bring to a sentence or idea. We are inundated with integers every day, and have become quite adept at using the universal language to mean something more. We normally adhere so strictly to multiples of five that, for instance, if a girl were to ask a boy to meet her at 12:01 he may think one of two things: she is unstable, or, German.
Who know’s maybe he would find it endearing, why meet at noon when you could meet at 12:01? A synchronicity would be required to pull it off, but I digress…
My son Augustus had to make a booklet at school for Mother’s day. On the first page he drew an approximate likeness of me and on the lined paper opposite wrote:
“You are more beautiful than 51 Mona Lisas.” I suppose from his 9 year old perspective 50 is the largest number he could concretely conceptualize, but I was fascinated that he added one.
“Augie, why fifty one?” I asked him.
“It’s more than fifty.”
“Why Mona Lisa?”
“She’s the most beautiful lady.”
“Do you think so?”
“I don’t know what she looks like! Isn’t she though? That’s what everyone says.”
I think Augie is on to something. It’s not Area 50, no, it’s Area 51, in other words: mystery. One more does say something significant. It suggests a possibility of endlessness. The title, One Thousand and One Nights is imbued with a feeling of time just a bit unbound. In contrast, Joseph Roth’s The Tale of the 1002nd Night has a tone of somber finality. 101 is the number assigned to all beginner classes at college, 101 tells you that you are beginning an education that, if you do it right, never actually ends. It’s more. The powerful inertia of zero has been broken- the possible is possible.