An Epiphany of Gravimetric Proportions
From a few years ago. I was embarrassed about it then, and a little less so now. Maybe I’ve learned. Ask my wife.
I was driving home in my truck when my mobile phone rang. I grabbed the phone, looked at the screen, and saw the caller was a potential client. We had been courting each other weeks for a project he was developing. This was a nice change. Usually, I did all the work. This time, though, I was especially suited for the job and was already his top pick. The job was mine to lose. I flipped the phone open and started chatting in my most inviting and professional tone.
The then phone beeped to tell me it was dying.
I kept on talking, cool, but a little faster, wondering if I could wrap this up before the inevitable, but, it beeped again.
And then again. I paused the conversation and apologized. I chuckled and said that my phone was dying but, before I was able to explain, the battery faltered, and the phone went blank.
West Coast Denn
I’m usually a calm guy, but I lost my cool. This was an important client, and the conversation was completely unprofessional. I could have stabbed myself in the eyeballs, I was so mad. I took the phone and threw it as hard as I could on the floorboard of the passenger side. It shattered into plastic shards that flew through the truck like confetti. I probably invented a few swear words. As quickly as my anger rose, I was deflated. I had only made an embarrassing situation worse. Because of my lack of planning, I had undoubtedly irritated and possibly lost a client. Because of a silly, angry response, I had, in no uncertain terms, lost a phone and would have to spend an interminable evening at the phone store, purchasing a new one.
As my anger waned and my composure returned, An epiphany glowed that I’ve never forgotten. In a real sense, it changed my life. Something I’d heard Wayne Dyer say didn’t seem so silly now.
To this point, I had an odd relationship with the PBS guru. I disagreed with almost everything important that he talked and wrote about. But I had never come away from reading something he wrote or hearing something he said when I wasn’t a little bit wiser. There was always a sliver of something useful and deep in his words. I saw it as a testament to his skill as a teacher and as an observer of human behavior. He argued that the universe is alive and conscious and acts with intention and meaning. I countered that the world was without feeling and made only of stuff we can measure like rocks, sky, blood, and little black plastic bits. His ‘universe’ had a capital U, but I didn’t believe in capitals: he was talking about God. “A wise man,” he would say, “recognizes that the Universe must act in the way that it does. A wise man doesn’t get in the way of the Universe but embraces it. Get’s in the flow. Hops on to see where it takes him.”
“Hogwash,” I argued back. We’re just skin bags full of wet chemicals.
But when I looked at the electrical and plastic bits strewn about the cab of my truck, I saw something a little deeper. Not that Dyer was right. Not that the Universe had ordained this event with Purpose. I wouldn’t really even know what that meant. But I could see that, in this case, the world inside the cab of my truck had worked exactly the way it had to and I was the one who set the actions in motion.
Laws of the Universe
A mobile phone is an electrical device. An electrical device only works when electrons move through the device circuits. This is the essence of electricity. There’s no need for magic or capital letters. In order for electrons to move through a circuit, a circuit needs power. In the case of a phone, one needs a charged battery or a plug-in power source. I had neither. I had used the phone all day and drained the battery, and I didn’t have a charger cord. That the phone had died was entirely predictable and entirely my fault.
That was the tip of the revelation.
I could see that hope is a kind of magic. I was hoping that the laws of physics would be lifted for me. Just for this time and just for five minutes. Just for long enough to end this call. But no. When the juice is gone, the phone died. Wayne Dyer should have said, “A wise man carries a phone charger.” It was silly. I was mad at all sorts of things, but I should have been angry at myself.
This was the real revelation.
The real revelation was that I had set myself up to be angry and to potentially lose a client. Why didn’t I carry a phone charger? Why answer a customer’s call when I have barely a pixel of battery life showing on the screen? Why not wait ten minutes until I’m home to return the call? Instead, I ran my phone to failure each day, hoping that it would serve whatever need I had at the time. Maybe Wayne Dyer should have said, “Hope is a piss-poor business plan.
I learned in a real, measurable sense that Dyer was right. The universe must work the way it does. We don’t need demons and universal intentions to explain the vagaries of our experience. Physics and evolution and pots falling from the counter and cell phones dying all happen according to rules that cannot be broken. The world isn’t demon-haunted, as Carl Sagan aptly argued. Gravity will always have its say. Electronic devices will always require a power source. Lungs will always need oxygen.
This subtle shift in thinking seems so entirely self-evident that any three-year-old instinctively knows it. But, just this morning, someone arrived late to work. They didn’t get gas for the car last night on the way home, and they didn’t leave early enough to fuel up this morning and still make it to work on time. Did they expect that maybe the rules of the combustion engine will be lifted for them? Just this one time? Probably not. Probably they just didn’t’ care about being to work on time. But I saw that, if I do care about something, the outcome is, at least in some measure, up to me. I can’t change physics or biology or the rules of business, but I can at least have a phone charger. Maybe that’s all I need to make all the difference. No reason to be angry at me or at a silly phone.