Fear fueled nightmares.

I write the key messages received during my night terrors. Most of these chaotic dreams are thick with mayhem, anxiety, and emotion but thin on meaning, so there’s often nothing to record. Last night, however, a clear message came through.

What if you were the answer to someone’s prayers – just not the one you’re with? What if you (or they) never knew? What if you are inadvertently the cause of a relationship laden with unrequited love, but you don’t know it?

The reason these questions are so scary is that psychologically, we always put ourselves at the center of the universe assuming that everything happening around us relates directly to us. The world literally and figuratively ‘revolves around us’.

Trust me, there is a psychological bias built to describe whatever ails you!

In this instance, my night terrors touched on confirmation bias, self-center bias, and egocentric bias. Confirmation and self-center biases help us remain grounded within our fragile “egosystems”. We seek out information and events that fit our view of our life so as not to ‘rock the boat’ emotionally.

These broad psychological stances can lead to problems. First, because you might choose to rely upon them to explain away a real situation that you should be facing or discussing with a professional. Next, because biases will cause seemingly rational people to discount science, others views or expert opinions that contradict their own conclusions. 

Relative the egocentric bias; egocentricity can actually be a positive bias allowing allows us to see everything that occurs in our life as part of a rich tapestry, a coherent, incident after incident narrative connecting each event in our life like a movie reel.

While nothing could be further from the truth, egocentric biases allow us to focus on positive outcomes rather than dwell on the tough questions or situations posed by your dreams, nightmares, or terrors.

We think we have a lot more control over the events in our life than we do. I will tell you that everything you do and many things you fail to do will spiral out and create either synergy or dissonance in someone else’s life.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of what I call Projectors and Magnets. These are people, events, or vehicles that seem to be at the center or just preceding situations that present life-changing choices.

Steam-powered dreams.

During the Civil War, Confederate president Jefferson Davis was approached by a young Doctor named Finley Hunt. Finley had a novel idea. One that he thought would change the trajectory of the war in the favor of the south.

Your first thought might be that Hunt posed a modification of the hot air balloons already being used in combat. Remember, during the Civil War, both sides used hot air balloons as manned observation posts and sometimes sniper positions high above the battlefield. It shouldn’t surprise you, as the technology for utilizing hot air balloons as crewed platforms had been around since the Montgolfier brothers did an untethered and manned flight in Paris, France in 1783.

Not 66 years later hot air balloons were being used in combat with the Austrian forces dropping bombs from balloons on Venice, Italy. Most people underestimate how long ‘flight’ has been around. They also conflate flight with manned flight or with ‘powered’ manned flight. For example, while Orville and Wilbur Wright made repeated powered aircraft flights in 1903, Rozier and Laurant were using gliders for manned flights all over France in 1783, over a hundred years earlier.

Hunt, less than a hundred years later, was thinking of an aerial attack platform with a unique twist… Steam power!

Hunt, a Civil War dentist, had designed an aircraft with wings and wheels and a fuselage that would run on steam power. An aircraft capable of maintaining flight for long periods of time and conducting precision bombing runs on Union targets. Hunt’s manuscript, blueprints, and plans (including photos of his historic meeting with Jeff Davis) were lost to history until they were accidentally discovered in a southern bookstore, wedged between the pages of a period book.

Advancements borne from combat.

Hunt succeeded in intriguing Jefferson Davis with the idea of aerial bombardment with repeatable precision and accuracy. Jeff Davis introduced to General Robert E. Lee and the Chief of the Engineer Bureau of the Confederacy. While it’s true that Hunt was an amazing and innovative young dentist, Finley Hunt wasn’t much of an engineer. His steam-powered plane plan had some serious gaps in both science and aerodynamics. 

What Dr. Finley Hunt was able to pull off was inspiring the advancement of steam-powered engineering in and around the US Civil War. For the remainder of the war, the Confederate Engineer Bureau attempted all manner of steam-powered machines and made discoveries that in turn inspired the Union engineers to take steam power more seriously.

War is like that. Many amazing advancements come out of warfare.

GPS, the Internet, microwave ovens, duct tape, and superglue are just a couple of technological advances that were created from the demands of warfare. Medical advancements borne from combat included field emergency surgery techniques, staving off infection, transportation of critically wounded, reconstructive and plastic surgery just to name a few.  

Waning light.

The American Civil War ran from 1861 until 1865. It took just four years to abolish slavery at the cost of 750 thousand American lives. The events of the war forever impacted the future of our nation. 

Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was the combat commander behind the battle for Fredericksburg and the historic confrontations at Antietam and Manassas. He was Robert E. Lee’s right-hand man and battle planner. Although Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson was in the thick of things during the worst battles of the Civil War, he escaped unscathed. That is until he was killed by his own troops coming back from a reconnaissance mission during the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Although a brilliant tactician, Stonewall Jackson forgot the basics of BMNT (Begin Morning Nautical Twilight)  and EENT (End Evening Nautical Twilight) that we teach in class during our ‘human factors’ section. Failure to recognize when you aren’t at peak performance can put you in a situation where your human performance can fail. Simply put, BMNT is dawn twilight and EENT is dusk twilight. These conditions change how humans see and cause dissonance in human data procession.

When Stonewall rode back to camp with his small team of tactical experts, there was no moon. That meant no shadow and very little silhouette against the diminishing dusk sky with which to draw a reasonable conclusion. Stonewall approaching on his horse with the echoing hoofbeats in the dark surprised his own troops who saw his outline then shot him before issuing a verbal challenge. His friendly fire wounds led to him losing an arm, and a short time later, his life.

Entropy from specific locations within an environment.

Maybe you believe that a place can retain or create Magnetism or Projection. Stephen King has made a living with stories related to these conclusions. The author of horror novels and dramatic tales of supernatural suspense has sold over 350 million books some of which have been turned into films. A couple of those films are very good. Almost all of King’s novels project the ability of a place to retain spirits, many of them evil or concern a human magnet to whom events seem to seek out, or who always seems to be at the center of the scrum.  

Kolb Ridge Court would fit right into a Stephen King novel and my theory of Magnets and Projectors. Located outside of Marietta, Georgia, Kolb Ridge Court is an area of rustic dwellings on the Kolb’s Farm property. There was a brief but very intense firefight here that went down in the history books on 22 June 1864 as The Battle of Kolb’s Farm. 156 years after that Civil War battle, long since new houses and new families settled on the property, the ghosts of the Battle of Kolb’s Farm visit and interact with the tenants. The ghosts are said to wear their Civil War uniforms and engage in poltergeist activity with the new residents. Kolb’s farm could be a magnet.


Ghost in the machine.

Virginia is no stranger to the McLean’s.

I worked for an amazing company in McLean, Virginia whose operational headquarters were located about a mile from ‘the Agency’s’ headquarters in nearby Langley, Virginia. McLean was named after the former owner a WAPO (the Washington Post newspaper) John Roll McLean. It was also the home of Kerr and McLean grocers, and 46-year-old Wilmer McLean’s farm. Wilmer and his wife Virginia Mason McLean were Magnets.

The McLean’s farm straddled both sides of Bull Run stream. Yup, that Bull Run. Fearing that the fighting would soon begin literally in his back yard, Wilmer grabbed Virginia and they headed for a piece of property Virginia owned in Manassas, Virginia (yup, that Manassas).

The first major engagement of the Civil War occurred on Wilmer and Virginia McLean’s property in July of 1861. Their property on Bull Run was the epicenter of the action. So, Wilmer and Virginia should be safe at their cabin in Manassas, right?

As fate would have it, Confederate General Beauregard liked the tactical positioning of the McLean’s cabin in Manassas, so he ‘appropriated’ it as his battlefield headquarters and sent Wilmer and Virginia to the barn. On 18 July 1861, Wilmer and Virginia’s kitchen took a direct artillery hit nearly killing General Beauregard and his staff, essentially destroying their cabin in the woods.

On 21 July, the Battle of Bull Run devastated McLean’s Bull Run property, and days later fighting destroyed most of their Manassas property. Reports say that wounded soldiers from both sides, as well as captured prisoners from each combatant force, called a truce of sorts in the McLean’s barn. It was then commandeered and used both as a jail and a hospital. Union and Confederate troops injured and in shackles littered every inch of the barns available space. Oh, plus Wilmer and Virginia.  

Virginia and Wilmer decided that the worst was over. They would rebuild the property and remain forever at their Bull Run property in McLean, Virginia. That was until August of 1862 and the Second Battle of Bull Run. After the third major Civil War battle destroyed the remainder of Wilmer and Virginia’s wealth and holdings, the McLean’s decided to take a vacation elsewhere.

Wilmer and Virginia, ever the shit-magnets, sought out and found a property that contained both a farm and a tavern so that he and Virginia could attempt to rebuild their wealth and status. Wilmer and Virginia picked a place at the intersection of the Lynchburg | Richmond state road and a number of main and alternate supply routes serving the Civil War heavies just outside of Appomattox.

Hopefully, the irony of this decision isn’t lost on you.

Anyone would have figured that lighting wouldn’t strike 4 times in a row, especially since this new property was 120 miles from where the war had ravaged the McLean’s initial holdings. The tavern allowed the McLean’s to provide food and drink to both sides and sometimes housing, the farm also allowed Wilmer to produce and sell supplies to the confederacy.

One day, Colonel Charles Marshall of the confederacy rode up to Virginia and Wilmer and asked them if they knew of a building large enough to host an important meeting. Wilmer showed the confederate Colonel a large brick and wood barn that sat on his property. When Colonel Marshall said that this was a very important meeting and couldn’t be held in a ramshackle barn, Wilmer and Virginia gladly offered their comfortably appointed two-story home. The parlor had just been renovated.

A few hours later, the McLean’s house was milling with activity and filled with some of history’s most notable people, including General U.S. Grant and confederate General Robert E. Lee. The end of the Civil War occurred in the McLean’s parlor. Lee conceded to Grant, and as both sides withdrew, finally headed home, they ransacked the McLean’s home for souvenirs of the end of the US Civil War.

The date was 09 April 1865, and the McLean’s found themselves again penniless and now homeless in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Only two powerful Magnets like the McLean’s could have created the entropy to own the property and also be on-site for both the beginning and the ending of the Civil War.

The McLean story doesn’t end so well.

After the Union and Confederate soldiers ransacked and destroyed their final holdings, then sacked their historic Appomattox property, Wilmer and Virginia attempted to recoup their losses by selling their Appomattox property. It was a sprawling 5-acre spread with brick outbuildings, stables a producing well plus a rustic tavern with nearby rooms that could have easily be turned back into roadside hotel rooms. With the end of the Civil War taking place in their study – how could the Appomattox property not prove to be a money-maker?

Even priced below what property was going for in and around Virginia, the McLean’s found no potential buyers and fell into disrepair and was ultimately repossessed. Wilmer ended up working for the IRS in nearby Washington. He and Virginia settled back in Manassas, now in a small home, forgotten to history.

So What?

My scary dream made me think of platitudes.

Like, ‘be careful what you wish for’. I intuitively knew that wasn’t the intended message. It wasn’t until much later in the day while working out that it all came together and finally made sense. Halfway through me singing along with Willie Nelson’s rendition of ‘Angel flying too close to the ground’ did I understand the relevance of my vision.

You may never know whether the one you are with is THE one. Whether the gift you have been given is the answer to your prayers. You might think of it more like Garth Brook’s song Unanswered Prayers:

“Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers. Remember when you’re talking to the man upstairs, that just because he doesn’t answer – doesn’t mean he don’t care. Because some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

The message was two-fold. First, be thankful for what you have been given. Next, be prepared for those opportunities you were praying for so you don’t miss them, and be sure to look out for those opportunities you didn’t see coming.

My suggestions might not make the perfect life strategy, but they certainly can be a cogent survival tool. Let me explain. Every experience leaves your brain with a file-folder with which to compare future events. Whether a Magnet or a Projector, you can use the information gleaned from surviving those experiences to prepare you to face future experiences.

The ‘tabula rasa’ (the absence of predetermined ideas or examples, literally a clean slate) can get you killed. Anomalies and novel external schema put you at a disadvantage. Playing “what if?” games and conducting thorough after-action reviews of every incident in which you are involved can help you. The ‘take-a-ways’ might be full of helpful gems that can help you conduct predictive analysis when you are planning future events.

The reason today’s stories fit so well together is that they are each so far-fetched, novel, ironic or unlikely. But one day you could be faced with such seemingly unpredictable challenges.

I would tell you to narrow your focus and understand that with the appropriate amount of training, almost no situation is unpredictable, even if you are a Magnet or a Projector!

Training changes behavior.

  • Greg

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