Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Excerpted from TING AND I: A MEMOIR...

“The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

What’s your astrological sign? A silly question. Or is it? I have always thought it coincidental that Tina’s birthday and my mother’s are the same, April 3. A little spooky, what?

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell reviewed studies that show that the birthdates of those who succeed in some activities, such as certain sports, are not randomly distributed. If your league or your school cuts off eligibility as of December 31, then those born toward the beginning of the year will be almost a year older than the youngest entrants, an advantage that continues year after year in some situations.

We chose to hold Phil (born August 26) back from first grade for such reasons, so he was nearly 19 when he graduated from high school. I started first grade at nearly seven rather than nearly six, with my December 21st birth date. Skipping second grade put me right back behind the pack, however, dooming me. It did get me out of the house at seventeen and a half, though.

More seriously, Tina and I like to think we were “fated to be mated.” It seems amazing that the girl from Kunming and the guy from Manhattan could have found each other.

How lucky is that? There are over a billion folk in China. We have here in the U.S. currently a few million Chinese. That’s roughly 1000 to 1 odds of being here, out of China. MS is a one-in-a-thousand illness, twice as frequent among females as males (X chromosome-related: XX vs. XY probability). Without MS, Tina would likely have been unwilling to leave her marriage. Maybe she would have had the energy to continue her Ph.D. studies, as she had qualified for. I nearly went to M.I.T., but my scholarship application was a few days late. Less than one student in a thousand at Cornell was in Chinese 102, so the probability of a randomly picked pair being there was less than one in a million. The random nature of genetic combination means that she could have been born a very different person than she was, the same being true for me.

It does seem miraculous, designed. For the other side of such speculation, see Frost’s poem “Design,” which I will not quote here, as it undercuts my thesis, grimly.

I prefer to believe “You were meant for me....”

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