by Karen Frazier, Managing Editor
It’s been quite a week. And probably not in a good way. Ed McMahon. Farrah Fawcett. Michael Jackson. While two weren’t entirely unexpected, the third was a shocker. MJ was 50. Seven years older than me.
And so, the conversation has arisen – as it does in weeks like these. Things come in threes.
Three – or the triad – is a big number in many aspects of faith, science and society. Christians have the Trinity – Father, Son, Holy Spirit. In other traditions of faith, three represents the body, mind and spirit. Eternity is bound up in the past/present/future. Culture is represented by art, science, religion.
I came across of list of the significance of three. Here it is, in part.
It is a prime number
It is a fibonacci number
Buddhism lists three roots of evil: greed, hatred and delusion; as well as three precious jewels, and the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.
Our physical world has three dimensions
The Hebrew alphabet has three mother letters
We have three phases of life: birth, life, death
I could go on and on, but I won’t. The bottom line is this – three has taken on a spiritual, emotional and often metaphysical significance. It is a magic number. It is the number of completion and a number of the Gods.
Do things come in threes? Sometimes. Any exhausted mother of triplets would tell you that. There is this thing that we do, however. It is a trick of the mind called confirmatory bias. By definition, confirmation bias is is a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions and to irrationally avoid information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs.
Here’s an example. Say that one morning you are twiddling about the house when suddenly Aunt Rose pops into your mind. Just a second later, the phone rings. It’s Aunt Rose!! Seems like you’d be likely to remember something like that. You thought of Aunt Rose. She called. Suddenly those two possibly unrelated events seem to be interrelated and highly significant.
Now, suppose the next day you are thinking of Cousin Cooter. He doesn’t call. How likely are you to remember and relate those two events?
It doesn’t matter if Aunt Rose calls all of the time and Cousin Cooter never calls, so logic would dictate that it is more likely that Aunt Rose will call while you are thinking about her. Our brains like patterns and connections. We have a tendency to make connections to things that are most likely unrelated.
It’s not that we’re crazy. We come by this naturally. Back when they were stalked by predators, early humans had to learn to quickly make connections in order to stay alive. And our species was better served by making a whole lot of false connections because those didn’t hurt them. But failing to make a connection? That could lead to a certain swift and unpleasant death.
Our propensity to make connections and see patterns, then, may just be an evolutionary glitch. One that originally served to protect us, but now needs a more creative outlet.
Certainly, three deaths of major luminaries in one week seems to confirm that things come in threes. The triad, started by the death of Ed McMahon, was completed yesterday with the sudden and shocking death of Michael Jackson.
Or was it?
Here’s a partial list of people with some level of fame who have died in June of this year (thank you Wikipedia):
John Campbell Ross, the last surviving Australian Veteran of WWI (he was 110)
Benoit Marleau, Canadian Actor
David Eddings, American Sci Fi/Fantasy Author
David Marks, American Actor
Frank G. Harrison, US Representative from Pennsylvania
Randy Smith, former basketball player for the Buffalo Braves
Dorothy Layton, American Actress
Del Monroe, American Actor
Richard Jacobs, Owner of the Cleveland Indians
Jim Owens, former University of Washington football coach
Jean Dausset, Nobel Prize winner
Kenny Rankin, American singer-songwriter
Jean Hugel, Notable French winemaker
Huey Long, Singer (the Inkspots)
Bob Bogle, guitarist for The Ventures
Those are just a few. I gave up on or about June 5, there were so many. And I just picked and chose for those.
The families and loved ones of each of those people would tell you that the death of their beloved was just as significant as the death of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett or Ed McMahon.
Do things come in threes? Sometimes it seems they do. But those who are left behind to grieve the loss of a loved one, death comes in ones. One at a time, a hole is made that can never be filled. One at a time, we remember those who have touched our lives. One at a time, we watch those who go before us head off into the great unknown.