She said in passing as she hugged me goodbye expressing gratitude and happiness, “you really are one in a million“.
I smiled and blushed and said thank you.
The term is supposed to mean that I am rare. Not many like me around. But as I closed the door behind her I thought, wait a minute. Hang on! Now, math is NOT my first language, nevertheless, I sat down and crunched some numbers.
There are close to three million people in Toronto. That means (doing the BODMAS thing) there are nearly two other people just like me in the city. That mathematical result, never mind the thought or reality, is frightening on so many levels.
More figuring, more math. Total population of Canada means that (head down, numbers crunching) there are nearly 32 people like me in Canada.
This is not good news. Then I wondered, what about… in other counties?
England has close to 50 million people, so (doing sums in my head) that ends up being 50 people just like me are wandering around there, albeit more English sounding. Hmm. I imagine each of the many me(s) having a different accent ranging from the Queen’s English through to those found in Oxford, Brighton, Plymouth, Wolverhampton, and Bath.
In the United States, its population suggests that there are 350 people like me. I hope they are mostly in or near New York, with maybe one or two in Chicago, and definitely one in Palm Springs. Neutral accents though, please.
You do know where this is going, don’t you? It means that there are 1,015 of me in China (give or take a few) and 1001 of me in India.
But why stop there? There are just over SIX POINT SIX (6.6) billion people on this planet. In the North American system of counting things, there are 1,000 millions in a billion. So, IF I have done my math right, and IF I am ONE in a million, there are (rounded) 6,000 people just like me on this planet? (CUE a quiet gasp).
But enough about me. There is a reason for this.
Sometimes, someone you know is drafted into a specific kind of one-in-a-million-club: the one for people who have that rare form of cancer (pick one) that when the numbers and statistics are crunched, turns out to be, well, one in a million. Four people within my circle have learned that they were the ONE in their respective one in a million club. A statistical anomaly? Or just plain weird?
Whatever it is, if indeed it is anything, raises a question or two. How rare is rare? What precisely is the statistical threshold that moves a thing from a regular or common occurrence to rare?
Perhaps it’s just me, but when the oncologist happens to mention with a bit of excitement and interest that THIS cancer is rare; one in a million, or one in two million, I’m thinking, how exactly is that form of research transfer helpful at a living, breathing, feet-on-the-ground kind of way?
To rephrase: rare is supposed to be not frequently encountered, scarce, unusual. How rare is rare?
Not nearly rare enough when those statistics jump off the page and into life, into a living breathing human being, someone you know and care about and talk with and laugh with and wonder about life with and then who you can’t do anything with ever again, except in memory.
I wonder if it’s that numbers aren’t capturing our imagination any longer. Or we don’t trust how they are used. Or big numbers are so much more commonplace because in journalism school, you learn that to add numbers is to give credence to your story and helps to put things in context for your readers, as in the headline, Ninety-nine per cent of the readers of this blog are related to me! True, I do have a hundred sisters and a brother and a few halfs, and steps, but you get the point.
As for the number one million, perhaps we don’t think of a million as a big number any more. We have become accustomed to hearing it every day, used as it is to describe such things as lottery winnings, diamonds, lovers, design, art, debt, things in the night sky and new millionaires. It is not such a big deal today. Except it is a big deal, when you ARE that only one.
Back to me. I am done being rare and am onto trying out unique, even as I ponder the use and misuse of statistics. However, if there are 5,999 other people on this planet who are just like me, well, someone, (and I am not naming names) is in for a very big surprise when travelling the world.
Oh and by the way: the math applies to you, too. 😉
PS: No statisticians, mathematicians, researchers, census-takers OR journalists were harmed in the creation of this post.