READY: The theory of threes: Paper towel thoughts

Mary Ready, Ready or Not

The column you’re currently reading (thank you) is a re-write of the original one my new laptop ate. This version is reconstructed from what’s left of my memory and written on paper towels while I sit vigil beside Frank in his ICU room

The last week has been family disaster week, and while I’m getting personal here, I know many readers can relate to those times in life when crises pile on, one after another.

Here’s my explanation for composing deep thoughts on hospital paper towels. First, my 2-year-old granddaughter has severe cataracts for which the latest corrective surgery and eye glasses have not been entirely effective. More surgery needed in a few weeks. And while toddlers do not endure such procedures stoically, Mom, Dad, and Grandma don’t fare any better. Anxiety, angst, and anguish describe our adult response.   

Meanwhile, the granddaughter’s mom (my favorite and only daughter-in-law) has been brought down by incapacitating knee pain, rendering it hard for her to work or to keep up with the whirling dervish that is our Catie Bug. Surgery No. 2 on the family calendar.

 While babysitting and trying to minister to my brood, I get a call from the nursing home. Frank has been taken by ambulance to the hospital with a heart attack. The ER doctor uses scary terms like “congestive heart failure” and “dying heart cells.” And something about heart enzymes and troponin levels. Then, the phrase “immediate surgery.” I’ve heard of trouble coming in threes, but didn’t think family surgeries came in a triad of troubles.

It may be an old superstition often perpetuated by three celebrity deaths occurring together, such as Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and Ed McMahon in the same month in 2009. In 1970, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix died within months of each other, all at the age of 27, and all with J’s in their first names. Or the story of the three sisters who died this August within three days of each other, buried in identical white caskets in Opa-locka.

In opposition to Shakespeare’s Law of Misfortune, the rational concept is that most of us expect random events to be evenly spread out through time and space. Yet, randomness has a perceived fondness for clustering, and its favorite number seems to be three. People with common sense and logic eschew triaphilia (fascination with three’s), declaring it nonsense. Yet, it’s a human tendency to hang on to patterns. I remember how fond my students were of guessing C on a multiple choice test of A, B, C, and D.

Maybe it’s psychological: Id, Ego, and Super-ego; 3 faces of Eve  

Maybe it’s religious: Trinity; 3 wise men; Peter denied Christ 3 times; sin, suffering, and salvation; faith, hope, and charity. A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar ….

Maybe literary: 3 little pigs; 3 coins in a fountain;  3 witches in Macbeth; 3 headed dog Cerberus; 3 little kittens who lost their mittens; 3 blind mice; 3 Musketeers; 3 Stooges; three wishes, etc.

Maybe historical: Columbus’ 3 ships; 3 great pyramids at Giza

Maybe governmental: 3 federal branches; of the people, by the people, for the people; life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness; red, white, and blue

Even political scandals: 3 Senators Craig, Vitter, and Ensign or 3 Governors Spitzer, McGreevy, and Sanford

Also consider:

3 bones in the human ear; 3 sheets to the wind; 3 times a lady; 3 minute egg; 3 piece suit; 3 feet in a yard; 3 ring circus; 3 legged race; 3 point landing; 3 cheers; 3 strikes, you're out;  3 is a crowd ; 3 R's; 3rd time's a charm; 3 parts to an atom: protons, neutrons, and electrons; 3 earth divisions: core, mantle, crust; 3 rock formations: igneous- metamorphic-sedimentary; 3 body types: endomorph, mesomorph, ectomorph; 3 germ layers: endoderm, mesoderm, ectoderm; 3 species of Homo: Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens; paper, rock, scissors;  small, medium and large

And, of course, THREE dog night.

The intelligent part of my brain, though shrinking with stress and age, tells me the fascination with 3’s is silly and illogical. The more primitive brain cells remember other catastrophes in my life which have come in three’s like the hot water heater, stove, and A/C all quitting in September 2012.

So, what do you think? Three strikes and you’re out? Or look to the hills from whence cometh all help. I know I’ll survive the three recent medical catastrophes, and if you’re also experiencing three simultaneous calamities, I bet you will too.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.