One more in my accounts of memorable philosophical meals. So. It had been a long time since I had spent the night at anyone's house but mine. Yeah, dozens of hotels a year, sometimes scores, but no sleepovers at private homes. Before or after a big talk on a stage in front of however many hundreds or thousands of people, I like the quiet isolation of a hotel room. We don't have to go all the way back to bunny pajamas for my last sleepover at somebody's house, but still, it had been long ago. Yet, when John Mackie, the founder of Whole Foods, invited me to come down to Austin a day before I was due there for a talk, and stay at his house, I couldn't pass up the chance—just to see what was in his refrigerator. While he was cooking us dinner, we drank champagne and talked about life. And with the meal we had a nice red wine. He's a strict no oil vegan, so it was with some trepidation that I took my first bite of the baked potato piled with water-sautéed veggies that he had prepared. But it was surprisingly good. His wife had just returned from one of her frequent spiritual trips to India, and the three of us stayed up late talking about the top gurus there and the legendary feats they reportedly accomplish, through a mastery of the mind and its impact on the body.
But I was going to talk about breakfast. So, I got up the next morning in the beautiful book-lined home and padded down to the kitchen, where I think I remember various granolas, great breads and jams and juice and coffee. But I could be wrong, because it was early, I was still half asleep, and it was the conversation during that entire visit that stuck, including that morning. Here's an example.
John told me about his first little health food store in Austin. It was his dream. He and his girlfriend ran it, and lived upstairs, without a bathroom or anything. They were barely surviving. But they had a great idea for providing a place for healthy fresh foods, and they loved their early customers, and those people felt their care and responded with a special affection for the little shop. Then an unexpected flood nearly destroyed it all. Everything was ruined. They were devastated. It looked like the business couldn’t possibly recover. There was little or no insurance. But customers, neighbors, and friends spontaneously showed up the next day and voluntarily got to work, cleaning up the monumental mess, rebuilding the store, and giving us the foundation of what would soon become the national chain, Whole Foods. What had looked truly terrible was the prelude to something great.
In 1971, the night before the rock band Deep Purple was going to record an album in Montreaux, Switzerland, their venue burned to the ground. The musicians watched all their plans go up in flames as thick smoke spread over Lake Geneva. And yet, they didn’t get discouraged, give up, and go home, but instead wrote and recorded the classic hit song, “Smoke on the Water.”
Scientist Percy Spencer was visiting the Raytheon Company and stood too close to a magnetron, a tube that released energy as a part of radar equipment at the time. A forgotten candy bar in his pants pocket melted, made a mess and ruined the pants, and yet got him curious and thinking, which quickly led to the modern indispensible marvel, the microwave oven.
Swiss engineer George de Mestral was on a walk in the woods with his dog. At some point, he realized that they were both getting covered with annoying burrs, sticking to the pants of one and the fur of the other. After painstakingly plucking the burrs off, he examined a few closely and, with what he learned, invented velcro.
Floods. Fires. Melted candy. Sharp, irritating burrs. The world is full of problems that come our way, large and small. But you don't have to be a guru in the mountains of India in order to use your mind and spirit to transform the situation, often with the help of likeminded people, friends, and colleagues. What may initially seem bad can be the doorway to something very good indeed. Even when it's vegan cooking.