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cecilia bedelia and the math lesson

December 15, 2011

I have never been fond of mathematics.  I understand its usefulness in everyday life and all, but to me, it is a necessary evil.  I use math more often that I would care to admit, and my skills are adequate for survival, like the ever-important ability to figure out sale prices at my favorite clothing stores, but anything beyond the basics baffles me.  And for a long time, even that was a struggle.  It’s not that I don’t possess the capacity to understand math – I’m not a dunce – it’s just that I don’t have the patience or desire to understand equations and numbers and proofs and the like (unless in a situation like the one mentioned above).  Math is often the bane of my existence.  So you can imagine my surprise, Reader, when I found myself being given a math lesson at a Christmas party this week.

I brought it upon myself, I suppose.  After all, I did ask Dakota what he was studying after the other Cecilia (not Cecilia2, another one – Cecilia C.) asked how his classes were going, as we waited for food to appear on a nearby table.

“Mathematics,” Dakota replied.  “I’m working on my Master’s.

“Really?”  I shuddered slightly.  “My brother minored in math,” I offered, trying to make up for my involuntary cringe.  “There’s some equation he tried explaining to me one time… e to the pi i minus one equals something-or-other.” 

Dakota nodded.  “Actually, it’s e to the pi i plus one equals zero*.”

“Right!  That one!” I proceeded to share the story of how I was Charles’ wake up call one Thanksgiving weekend.  I woke him up the first morning, but he fell back to sleep which resulted in our tardiness and subsequently my frustration.  My brother blamed me.  He said that I should have made sure he was awake. 

“Make sure I say something coherent tomorrow,” he instructed.

So the next morning, I woke him up and told him to say something.  “Life is like a box of chocolates,” he mumbled.  “You never know what you’re going to get.”

“That’s too easy, Charles!  Say something coherent!”

My brother sighed and said, “E to the pi i plus one equals zero.”

I hesitated.  “Um… that doesn’t make sense to me.”

“Cecilia,” he sighed, “that’s why it’s coherent.”  At least at that point I knew he was awake.

I told Dakota and Cecilia C. that for the rest of the day, my brother tried explaining what the equation meant with all its proofs and whatnot.  I zoned out after five minutes.

“Would you like me to explain it?” Dakota asked.

“Seriously?”  I responded with nonexistent enthusiasm.

“Sure!” he said cheerfully.  “Hand me that napkin.”

Cecilia C. and I looked on as Dakota folded the napkin into quarters.  He then unfolded the high-tech teaching tool and began his lesson.  Reader, I am not even going to try to reconstruct what he said, but I finally understood the equation.  Granted, Dakota didn’t go into the proofs or anything; he simply showed us how it works.  But I got it.  The whole e to the pi i thing made sense!  And then the adding one and all of that!  Yup.  Total sense!  Cecilia C. and I were impressed.

Dakota said he had a few other mathematical party tricks up his sleeve, but the food arrived before he could finish the second lesson of the night.  It was probably a good thing.  The lessons were interesting but I can only handle so much math at once.  And I think I’ve reached my quota for the year.  Dakota and Charles may enjoy their e to the pi i, but I prefer apple pie, thank-you-very-much.  I mean, I’m glad I know  how the equation works, but I’ll never use it again… unless to impress people with my incredible math skills at the next party!

*I warned you that I’m not fluent in math: I don’t even know how to write the equation properly!

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