By the Numbers

A brief “by the numbers” begins, of course, with one. Back when I could understand the lyrics of songs (understand in the sense of hear, not comprehend), we had Three Dog Night and “One” and its inexplicable “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” Beware: The melody causes an earworm. The One Ring to Rule Them All creates havoc in The Lord of the Rings, what with the constant and evil desires trying to get and keep it. Finally, we have the Unified Field Theory, the one comprehensive explanation of the universe. Another name is ToE, or Theory of Everything. Blessedly, there isn’t such a thing, and its lack gives me hope that more can be done in science, and everything else.

If one is serious and lonely, two seems amusing, if cynical. An old joke goes like this: There are two kinds of people in the world—people who divide the world into two kinds of people and people who don’t. This set of illustrations is newer and funnier. My favorite of this subset comes from an old friend who years ago taught us that there are two kinds of skylights, those that leak and those that don’t leak yet. A certain Zen comes with these examples of twoness. Because we know that Zen is a school of Buddhism, we associate it also with calmness; however, the PIE root means “to see, look.” Observation, then, leads to wisdom and peace, if you can avoid sarcasm.

Three is a profound number. A triangle, the most stable shape, forms the basis for much construction. The iconic Sydney Opera House uses spherical triangles in its unique design, the mathematics of which challenged the builders until they were peeling an orange one day. I have two sets of three things that form not a physical but a mental basis: three motivations and three parts of being. A friend who is much more comfortable with her wisdom than most stated that only three things motivate us: fear, duty, and love. This contrasts with many other models, of course, including the famous Maslow’s pyramid which began with five needs that prompt action (physiological, safety, love, esteem, self-actualization) but that was expanded several times. It’s been my experience that fear motivates only briefly. After a disaster, we plan to make changes but often fail to follow through once the adrenaline abates. Duty gets us through most days. We go to work, school, the gym, because we have to even if we often love the results of what we are doing. Zig Ziglar said, “Duty makes us do things well, but love makes us do them beautifully.” Ideally, we can do most things with love, but that takes more than motivation. On one hand, I believe people only do what they want to do, regardless of what someone else asks them to do (look up passive-aggression); on the other, what relief and joy come when I can do something out of love.

The next set of three has to do with our beings. We are creatures with bodies, minds, and spirits. Religion explains, but these days other means can do so as well. Regardless, all three need nourishment. An apple a day, learning something new each day—each in its way betters our lives. John Greenleaf Whittier, an American Quaker poet and abolitionist, famously encouraged the selling of our second loaf of bread and using the proceeds “to buy hyacinths for the soul.” Bread is wonderful, perhaps too much so fresh out of the oven with a bit of butter, but the transcendent scent of a hyacinth, its rich color and shape, and the simplicity of its culture on our windowsill do much for our hungry souls. Another sort of nourishment—an act of service to another—likewise feeds our souls and can alleviate even our physical pain. I’ve seen it done.

Yes, there are more numbers, but I see that their inclusion would take too much time and space. Another post perhaps…4 to ∞.


Today I believe I must write about fear. Not because of the really large beetle that was crawling up my dress yesterday. Not because of anything that happened to me recently that I’m not willing to repeat. Two people dear to me had experiences over the weekend that suggested this topic, and as I’ve thought about it, I have some conclusions that I want to share.

In May 2015 I wrote about hate for the Dallas Morning News. There aren’t any comments because people just emailed me directly; yes, a bit of hate mail. The article also discusses fear but only lightly. A good discussion of fear can be read here; of the five fears from which all others come, my bug comes in at #2: fear of mutilation, which sounds worse than what I felt yesterday, but that’s nothing compared to what happened to others.

First, a friend posted on FaceBook that she and the other black person with whom she was traveling were stopped for a traffic violation. She was reporting the event as it happened, with all sorts of friends in on the drama. The problem? Being in Missouri, Confederate flags, “Celebrate the South” banners, “Secede the Union” banners everywhere. Nothing happened, thank goodness, and the troopers were not threatening in any way, she later told me. She ended this post this way: “We survived. Simple mistake corrected. The point? The fear.” She’s right. That is the point. None of this was helped by the Branson show called Dixie Stampede she and her friend attended, part of which involved the crowd being divided into North and South groups for competition. Reviews call the show “incredibly racist,” which would make anyone uncomfortable, regardless of race. My friend was embarrassed to be there. I would have been, too.

Second, a certain recent election has left some people distraught and beyond. Indeed, one might say half the country has suffered from some degree of anxiety. My church magazine had an article in March about the difference between normal anxiety and an actual disorder. It is clinical as well as spiritual and concludes with some specific advice not to judge, not to say “it’s all in your mind” kinds of things, and not to say “don’t worry.” Among lots of other good things. I think the timing was important. So when this other dear person reported not being able to sleep because of yet another round of tweets and a video ad by the NRA that makes a pitch for an “us-against-them” scenario, I decided to make an appeal:


My plan is to send this to the several groups involved. But I have a personal appeal as well, related to last week’s appeal to think. If you, yes you, dear reader, are doing something that frightens someone, please stop. What might that be? You name it: drinking too much, smoking at all, driving too fast, using harmful language, not seeing the doctor, taking drugs, overeating, undereating, flying the Confederate flag…the list seems endless. If it is scaring someone you love, stop it.

Full disclosure: I went to a junior high named Robert E. Lee. Our team name? The Rebels. I just checked, and it’s still the same. In truth, I had never thought about it much until today. They get the blog post too, and an appeal to consider a change. I am a Southerner. I can’t help that. I’m a conservative. Not really a choice, given the world as it is. But I can speak out about fear, both locally and globally. Let’s all take that “Love one another” thing seriously.