Leaves of Three, Let it Be!
The title saying is a well known rhyme which serves as a memory aid; a warning that Poison Ivy and Poison Oak bear leaves in clusters of three…stay clear to keep from contracting a nasty rash.
The number 3 carries significance both in story and in culture. “Bad things” come in threes, we are told…but not always. Three wise men sought the Christ child, and gave 3 gifts. Three musketeers were “All for one and one for all.”. There were 3 little pigs, 3 blind mice, 3 bears, 3 billy goats gruff, 3 little kittens who lost their mittens, and 3 stooges to make us laugh.
Mythology reveals Cerebus, the 3-headed guardian of the gateway to Hades (the Underworld). And the 3 Fates, who are the prophetic deities: Clotho the Spinner, spins the thread which begins each life story; Lachesis the Apportioner, carefully measures the length of thread allotted for each life, and Atropos the Inevitable, cuts the thread at life’s end. Mighty Zeus was said to carry three thunderbolts. The first he cast in warning, the second had dire consequence, and the third strike dealt a fatal blow.
“Three” made its familiar foray into the entertainment industry. Music gave us the folk genre group, The Kingston Trio; and the melodic classical tone of The Three Tenors. Movie titles announced The Three Faces of Eve, and Three Amigos; while television played the sitcom Three’s Company.
The number 3 is so ingrained in our psyches that the brain is at ease with its concept even without its stated presence. How often are you asked to choose among: Small, Medium, or Large? We find order with situations having: Beginning, Middle, and End. We mark the day by Morning, Noon, and Night. Three lights appear on a traffic signal: Red, Yellow, Green; signifying Stop, Caution, and Go.
Visually, we see objects in three dimensional form (height, width, depth). Tricycles, with their 3 wheels, are easier to balance than a bicycle. A properly constructed triangle is considered the most stable shape.
We’re familiar with 3-piece suits, 3-ring circuses, and giving 3 cheers for a great performance. At a picnic, we may participate in a 3-legged race; or drink ourselves into a state of intoxication known as “three sheets to the wind”.
In Cricket 3-wickets in a row is a “hat trick”, a good thing. Three strikes in bowling is also a good thing, especially if they are 3 strikes in a row (called a turkey). Three strikes in baseball means the batter is out; good for one team, not so for the competing team. And 3 strikes in a court of law could end in a lifetime prison sentence.
In his classic work Conduct of Life: Considerations by the Way, Poet and Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
“There are three wants which can never be satisfied: that of the rich, who wants something more; that of the sick, who wants something different; and that of the traveller, who says, ‘Anywhere but here’.”
Have you fallen under the spell of the mystical number three?
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