Thursday, February 21, 2008


It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.
—Czeslaw Milosz

Little things can touch people’s lives. This story of a beautiful (but simple) tribute made me a little misty.

NYC firefighter Bobbie Beddia spoke with artist Rhonda Shearer. He told her that he was very lucky because he was the same age as his birth year, 53. He said it was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Shearer thought it was a unique and clever observation. She suggested that he get with a mathematician to work out a proof. Unfortunately, he was killed fighting a fire later that afternoon.

Shearer decided to pursue the proof in Beddia’s behalf.

A friend hers, physicist Richard Brandt, pointed out that the coincidence of birth year and age can only happen in even years. If you were born in an odd numbered year (say 1975), the sum of the two odd numbers (75+75) is an even number (2050). Suna and I will share this joyous year in 2016.

She contacted a freelance math writer Barry Cipra, who wrote a paper on what he dubbed the Beddian Year. He even and devised a formula to determine which population was larger: those who had attained their Beddian Year or those who had not. It’s not as simple as it sounds. People of different ages share the same Beddian Year. For example, this year is the Beddian Year for people who were born in 1956 and in 2004. There are probably more, but I’m not that good at math. (I lifted these years straight from the article.)

See how good things spread. I never met any of the people in this story, but the way they worked together to honor a friend really made my day. Do something nice for someone. The ripples spread across the pond.

References (19 February 2008). "Biddian year." Available:

Widdiecombe, Lizzie (12 November 2007). "A firefighter’s theorem." The New Yorker. Available:


Dragonfly said...

I must be having an off day, I had to read this a couple times and go through a couple lengths before it clicked. (considering I was a math minor, I'm slightly embarassed) But 2044 will be my year

Lee said...

Could be just bad writing on my part. The math is outside my realm of expertise.

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