The universe gave me a strange way to live and a lovely bit of magic to help me deal with it. Here’s how it works. I continuously face problems to solve, and to solve them I simply need to ask the right questions. The universe does the rest. As soon as I ask a question the answer pops up somewhere in my immediate environment along with whatever I need to solve the problem.
Now I don’t get to just sit on my ass and wait for the answer. I have to stay busy and keep a vigilant lookout for the answer, knowing that it lies nearby. If, as I sit here in an airport waiting for my next plane to climb in, I begin to ponder how many hairs are on a green frog’s butt, I can look around and expect the answer to lie somewhere down the hall or on the plane. If I keep an open mind and a steady lookout, I will, believe it or not, soon find something like a Green Frog magazine and an article about green frog butts. It always works that way. I just have to acknowledge three things; the answer lies somewhere nearby, I should be open to recognize it when it pops up, and if I get it wrong, the universe will throw out the correcting answers for me to find just in time to make the necessary corrections. I think of it as a game of sorts between the universe and me.
To help me know when I am in harmony with the universe, I encounter two numbers in various combinations; one is the number 3 (my number), and the other is the number 8 (Pauline’s number).
A few weeks ago I was pondering when I should visit relatives in Tennessee when I learned from a customer that I should come to Washington D.C. for a project review. That was the first clue. By the time I had begun to make plans for Washington, a second business requirement, this one to go to Dayton arose. Before the plan was finished a requirement to go to Tennessee, presented itself. So I combined all three and stuck in a weekend to visit relatives in Tennessee. I had asked the question; I got the answer, and a few 3’s and 8’s were involved.
My plan was to hit DC on Thursday, Dayton on Friday, then spend a Saturday and Sunday with relatives and old friends and a Monday on business before heading home. I think this was almost but not quite the answer the universe wanted. By the time I was on my way to Washington the Tennessee customer had postponed the opportunity. Okay, I already had the tickets and the arrangements so the correct answer was I could spend one more day with relatives, a Saturday to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with my son and daughter, Sunday for a meeting with high school classmates and Monday with my sister, using the Monday that I had originally planned to spend on business. I liked this even better than the first plan, and it had increased the days with relatives and friends to three.
In Washington, I learned for the first time what a customer requirement really was, so I could now solve the right problem. In Dayton I found the answer to how I could efficiently complete a job I had started but could not before see a simple closure.
Everything seemed very harmonious until Saturday morning when I reached the Dayton airport for the trip to Nashville. The flight had been cancelled, and there seemed to be no simple way to get to Nashville. These things don’t surprise me any more; I face problems like this every day. My life is about discovering what the universe hands me next to get me past the obstacle it has just placed in front of me. When the ticket agent suggested that the best thing she could do is get me to Nashville by 9 o’clock in the evening, one of the most important parts of the weekend went down the drain. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to go to Tennessee after all. An impulse hit me. “I’d just as well go back to California and skip the whole Tennessee thing if I miss the first day.” Was my response to her offer. “Just get me back into Orange County or LA,” I said. “I’m ready to go home.”
To my great surprise, she reacted with passion, even in face of a dozen irate customers behind me who were pissed that their flight had been cancelled. They wanted blood. “Is it a big St. Patrick’s Day party you had planned for tonight?” she asked quietly as she continued to thump on the computer in front of her.
“Yeah, that and a family reunion. But it’s okay. I’ll do it some other time,” I responded glibly.
For sure, the universe had chosen to give me a compassionate lady for a ticket agent. “ I hate for you to miss your weekend,” she said. “Just bare with me.” After a few minutes on the computer her eyes lit up. “If you are willing to take a taxi to the Cincinnati airport, I can get you to Nashville by 2 o’clock this afternoon and you can make your party.”
“Fantastic.” I replied. “Let’s do it.” I was glad that the correct answer was “going to Tennessee” after all. My room in Washington had been 308, the one in Dayton was 303, and even the date was the 17th (adds up to 8), so I could see that the harmony was still there.
To get to Nashville from that point, a taxi drove me South to Cincinnati for a hundred miles then a plane took me back north to Chicago for three hundred miles, where another plane took me back South again for another 600 miles. “What a strange way to get to Tennessee! I thought as I was wondered why the universe wanted me to go to Tennessee so bad. What was I supposed to learn in Tennessee?
I had forgotten how beautiful Tennessee becomes towards the end of March. For the first time in my life I noticed the Bradford pear trees in full bloom. The white forests were everywhere I looked. I have come to love the May flowers in England, and now it seemed the universe had provided something like May flowers in Tennessee in March along with many other flowers that were in full bloom. Dayton had been so cold I still thought it was winter, but spring was everywhere in Tennessee, and I checked into room 332 in the Holiday Inn (adds up to 8 and has two threes).
On the first evening I was joined by three relatives, Jimbo, my son, Joan, his wife, Joan, and Kris, my daughter, and we sampled the Irish ales at Bosco’s and even tried the Irish stew. I discovered that “real” Irish pubs don’t serve green beer. A sign in the window said, “You won’t find green beer in this or any ‘real’ Irish pub.” Is that an important thing to learn? After dinner we saw the movie 300 (How could we go wrong?), a saga about 300 heroic Spartans in the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. (Adds up to three) In the movie 300 Spartans led by their King Leonidas stall a Persian onslaught of Greece by killing nearly 30,000 Persian warriors over the course of three days. This sounds like such an amazing feat that the natural question to ask is whether the movie was based on historical fact or was it simply Hollywood at work. Having 300 Spartans knocking off 30,000 Persians is stretching it a bit, not to mention that it is bordering on Political incorrectness. None of my family had an answer. I went back to my hotel room with the question still in my mind imagining that I would punch it into Google and see if any answers lay there.
Since I don’t have cable TV at home I find channel hopping over the hundreds of channels available on hotel TV sets to be a unique sort of entertainment. Even though the hour was late, I felt like a round of channel hopping. Since a program was in progress on National Geographic Channel, and one starting on the History Channel I paused to find out that the History Channel was about to explain what went on in Greece in 480 BC when the Persians and King Xerxes attempted to conquer the world. Now I really knew I was in harmony with the universe, which had already prepared a TV special to answer my latest question. I stayed glued to the TV until the end of the program (3 AM).
The answer, by the way, is that the movie is, indeed, based on history, and while these 300 Spartans may have had some help, they did kill tens of thousands of Persians before essentially sacrificing themselves to preserve Democracy. The historians narrating the program agreed that these few days were possibly the most important days for Democracy in the history of the world. The commentators credited these men for the survival of Democracy, as we know it today. Maybe this is what I was supposed to learn in Tennessee? Why didn’t I learn this in high school? The Historians filled out the real story including important parts left out of the movie, especially the story of how the Greek navy did equally bizarre heroics with a few hundred ships taking on 10,000 ships and destroying an incredible number with little explanation known to us today. Critics of the movie complain about too much violence. When you throw 10,000 raging Persians at 300 highly disciplined, sword wielding warriors wedged in a canyon, just what the hell did they expect, a tea party?
On Sunday after seeing one traffic problem after another I concluded that this area has more traffic problems than Los Angeles. People who used to think of rush hour traffic as the time when you have to drive closer to the speed limit, now seem to accept long lines and hour long waits on the freeway. They simply don’t have the infrastructure to support the number of cars, and haven’t handled the traffic problem in a viable way. If they don’t do something fast, within a year or two, we are going see a kind of road rage in Tennessee that will make even the California anger peddlers envious.
I sat in a stationary line of traffic for half an hour before exiting the freeway and taking surface streets to the Murfreesboro Cracker Barrel where I met up with three of my high school classmates, Ed Maupin, Gayle Clanton, and Pat Eisenbeis. I had reunited with these old friends after a nearly 50-year separation. These guys were in beauty contests the last time I saw them, and now they are old farts and little ole ladies.
After an interesting Southern breakfast of country ham and grits three of us walked the nearby Stone River National Battlefield where nearly 30,000 men died in a three days of fighting 150 years ago, another sort of Thermopylae, definitely not a tea party. I often hang out at Stones River Battleground when I have a few extra minutes on my way to the Nashville airport. I am drawn to this place, which always makes me ask many questions I would never have asked anywhere else. Many of the answers show up even before I leave the battlefield. When I asked what made people kill each other like this and then looked at where we are today, I realized that Thermopylae, Stones River, and even Iraq have some scary parallels.
Sunday afternoon included an old fashion family reunion with three generations of relatives gathering in a Horse Mountain home where you don’t have to be a zillionaire to have a lake in your back yard. Wild deer and turkeys make their daily trek from the woods for a cheap meal. One of the most beautiful events I have ever seen was the takeoff of a flock of geese on their continuing migration south after a day of R and R around the lake I call Lake Wally. As we stood on the back porch and watched the geese move up and down the lake, Wally called our attention to observe what was about to happen. “Each day at about sundown, the geese, after a day of rest on the lake, continue their migration. The routine, itself, is exciting to watch.” As they swam back and forth along the lake, we could hear a definite communication taking place, and a rearrangement of positions, as they seemed to be sorting themselves in some optimal order. Finally, forming a line at one end of the lake, they continued to talk and rearrange themselves into a V shape. There was a brief moment of silence followed by one goose letting out a series of honks and then all hell broke loose as thirty plus geese began to run on the water and become airborne, filling the air with water spray. By the time they reached the end of the lake they were fifty feet in the air, just clearing the trees and in a perfect V formation that they would continue in flight. The sight of this spectacle almost brought me to tears with excitement. I almost wanted to be up there with them on their way to Florida.
On Monday I visited a few interesting sites around the city of Shelbyville, sites that have changed drastically since I was a child growing up in a small town. The town square has undergone a remarkable evolution, first being decimated by Wallmart and other superstores on the town outskirts, and now making a comeback as a cultural center. The historic Pope’s Café thrives on the square and was sporting a newly painted mural by the local artist Clem Moreou. Pope’s Café and their home cooked meals, alone, is reason enough to visit the square. The new Duck River walk above the dam, which once supplied power to the city, has turned a nearly inaccessible riverbank into a beautiful park. The river holds both good and bad memories for all of us. In younger years my friends and I had virtual fleets of boats that we collected after floods and repositioned along the riverbanks. During totally rampant flooding people lost homes and lives to the river. Fifty years ago, two of three friends who went over the dam in a freak accident during such a flood were not found for days. Today, the river has been tamed with dikes and floodgates to the point that few people remember the hell that once visited Shelbyville almost every year.
On my way back to the airport I diverted through Bellbuckle to experience the leftovers of daffodil day, which had occurred on Saturday. Bellbuckle is an interesting village north of Shelbyville, which at one time was an important railroad town. Now, like many other towns of its type, it is mostly a tourist attraction, housing mostly gift stores and restaurants, and, of course, Webb School, a private school for sons of the wealthy. Webb school was more like a thorn in the side of us poorer public high school folk and was a place to “raid”, especially when “our” girls responded enthusiastically to invitations to attend their formal dances.
Each year on March 16, Daffodil Day, the best daffodils in singles, groups and displays win awards. I stopped to photograph a stretch of highway that is lined with thousands of these flowers. For many years everyone I knew referred to these flowers as buttercups. Eventually Pauline corrected this error by pointing out that a buttercup is a tiny yellow wild flower that grows close to the ground. On one visit we even asked the proprietor of the Daffodilly Gift shop in Bellbuckle what he called those flowers painted on the billboard in front of his store. Without hesitation he responded, “Buttercups.”
If Bellbuckle is going to officially call them Daffodils, then I have to finally admit that Pauline was right about buttercups. Was this the answer I came to Tennessee to get?
Back in Nashville, before heading for the airport, I joined up with Kris, Wes, and Christian for lunch and a final hug from my favorite daughter and two genius grandkids. These three hugs alone made the trip to Tennessee worthwhile. And it’s nice to always have good reasons to come back.
Finally, back at the airport, I checked in for the 4:50 flight to Orange County (Adds up to nine, which is three 3”s). The computer upgraded the first leg of my flight to first class as I had requested; however, for the second leg, I was stuck in the tourist class section. That was not the answer I wanted, but the universe had presumably decided that was the correct answer for the moment. At Dallas I took the Skytrain to gate D8, wondering if I should ask again if there was any chance of getting upgraded to First Class.
The monitor showed a long wait list of upgrade requests, and my hopes were sinking fast, but I had, at least, captured an exit row seat. “Can I get on the upgrade wait list or is that useless at this stage,” I queried of the ticket agent, handing her my tourist class boarding pass. She looked at it and typed a few words into the computer, which then seemed to come alive with printing noises; “Is this what you want?” she smiled as she handed me a first class boarding pass.
I was in seat C3. (Third letter in the alphabet followed by a three). Sometimes life’s really fun.