the answer is forty-two

In the late 1970s, a British radio program, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy introduced me to brilliant satire, a science fiction story, and more of the British wit I already enjoyed in another British show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. A book (Douglas Adams), television and a 2005 movie popularized the story for fans.

For those who are not fans, the story introduces us to Arthur Dent, an ordinary English guy, completely lacking in self-confidence, who finds one morning that his home is scheduled for demolition by the local government planning commission – to put a highway where it sat. He commiserates with a friend, Ford Prefect, who it turns out is an extraterrestrial who has come to rescue him. Apparently some galactic planning commission intends to destroy the Earth that day, to put through some highway of its own.

The story involves several humorous jabs at bureaucracy, technology, space travel, romance, and political incompetents. At one point, the plot story describes that some galactic beings – in the form of common mice – commissioned a computer to answer the question, “what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?”. The answer, “42” confuses them, so they seek a second computer to find the specific question that “42” satisfies. Before they could get a satisfactory answer, the computer – Earth – was destroyed for that highway mentioned earlier. At the end of the story, everything is made right again with a newly-assembled planet Earth, but the mice-beings and their quest for the eternal answer are thwarted by Arthur.

Sometimes I think that the eternal answer to the meaning of Life will continue to elude most people. For the rest? Love your neighbor, enjoy the time you have, and most importantly, do not misplace your towel.

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