Palindromic Thoughts

The little group of people needed to meet and discuss important matters.  Someone had to set the time.  We should have known better than to let the mathematician do it.

“We’ll meet at my house at 7:14 PM.”

That’s what the email said.  7:14.  Not 7:00.  Not 7:30.

We arrived at 7:14 and laughed about the odd scheduling.  We talked about why certain numbers were acceptable when setting timetables and others were not.

I don’t know where the thought came from, but suddenly it hit me.  I don’t love math, but some numbers are of interest to me.  Perhaps that is true for everyone.  I know many people who are superstitious about numbers.

I’ve had customers in the music store who had to buy something else when their total came to $6.66.  Seriously.

Or, how about the number 13?  Does it mean anything?  Anything at all?

I’m happy to report my numbers aren’t the superstitious kind.  For some reason though, I do have a connection with a few which have an interesting feature.  I was born on June the sixteenth–616.  The Lovely Lady and I tied the knot on August the eighteenth–818.  When I was a kid, we got our mail at Post Office Box 313.

Funny.  I notice that the time on my digital clock is showing one of those numbers and I smile.  The number comes up on a sales receipt and it feels like I’ve just gotten a note from an old friend.

I know.  I’m an odd duck.

I never said I wasn’t.

The mathematician had a name for those numbers.  Palindromic.  They read the same going forward and backwards.

Symmetry.  Order.  Harmony.

The realization hits me like a ton of bricks.  I don’t know if I like the number sequences because of my personality, or if my personality has been influenced by the sequences, but I suddenly remember my need for order and symmetry.  I’ve jokingly called it my little OCD problem.

I like whole potato chips on my plate, not broken ones.  Colored candy is sorted and eaten until there is an even number of each color in my hand.  The shopping cart in the grocery store is sorted into categories as items are selected.  If I’m in the kitchen when the Lovely Lady is at work there, I clean and arrange dishes and pans behind her.

She is not amused.  Oh, she understands me, but she is not amused.

Perhaps I should move on.

The concept of order and symmetry has become a bit esoteric in the world in which we live.  Before we move too far though, there was another comment made tonight as we joked about the palindromic numbers which bears a bit more thought.

“So–you like looking forward and looking back–do you?”  The mathematician asked the question.

I realized, with a start, that he was correct.  There wasn’t time to discuss it, so I let it drop.  But as I sit at my desk, I can’t get away from the feeling that there is a deeper truth here.

Much deeper.

Sometimes it’s in looking back that we can see our way forward.

I love to write about the past.  I don’t live there, I just enjoy frequent visits via the memories which I’ve been privileged to retain.  The bigger picture shows that often the past gives us answers to unlock the future.

It can only do so if we raise our eyes from the vault of our memories to gaze again toward the mysterious road ahead and interpret correctly the knowledge our visit to the past has given us.

Perhaps a couple of illustrations from real life might help.  From many years ago, there are two old men who come to mind.  They were both leaders in the church I attended.

The first was an old farmer, with a love for history and tradition.  But, change had begun to creep into the fellowship.  Some wanted to use a different, more understandable, version of the Bible.  Then there was the music, and even the artwork on the new sign.  It was all too much for him.

With his eyes fixed firmly on the past, he refused to accept any of the changes, making sure that people knew his viewpoint on each one.

“We’ve never done it that way before.”

The other old gentleman also had a love for tradition.  Like his friend (and they were friends), he insisted on consistency in the doctrine of the organization.  He too, liked looking back at the past and remembering how things had been in his younger days.

But he saw things that his friend didn’t–or wouldn’t.  Looking back, he saw that in his day, changes had been made–changes that he had been happy about.

He wondered.

Changes.  In the past.  Hmmmm…

Looking back to the future, he made his proclamation.  It was a bit different than his friend’s had been.

“We’ve had our day.  It’s time for the younger folks to have theirs.”

We look back.  And, we see our way forward more clearly.

There is one other type of person.  I’m surrounded by this type.  I have been this type.

It is the person who only looks to the future and makes changes willy-nilly, without ever considering a historical perspective.

Disaster awaits.

It’s true.  Change is the only real constant we know.

We don’t live in the past.  We don’t yet live in the future, either.  The success of the latter depends on paying attention to the lessons of the former.

Right about now, I’m looking back and realizing that I haven’t slept for a number of hours.  It’s time to rest so I can do it all again tomorrow.

And, I know by experience that the clock will soon be displaying my old Post Office box number.  It’s an old friend I’m not anxious to greet tonight.

Looking backwards.  To make the future better.


Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”
(Soren Kierkegaard ~ Dutch philosopher ~ 1813-1855)

“Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.”
(Katharina von Schlegel ~ German poet/hymn writer ~ 1697-1768)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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