Life is filled with thousands of little Butterfly Effects. We’ve heard the parable. Most times it is reflected in science and the science fiction of time travel. In science it is depicted with the cliché of a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a change in atmosphere that might cause, prevent or change the path of a tornado or tropical storm in a specific location. In science fiction it is usually used when the character travels to a different point in time, she must be careful not to do anything that will change history. Heaven forbid that she is plopped down at a point in her own pre-history and do something to change the particulars of her conception. Maybe she would cease to ever be. I can see you smiling at that one. But if you give it some thought you would see the logic.
Life is cause and effect. Think about this very moment in time. What would you be doing if you weren’t reading this? Maybe you might be drinking coffee, eating some grapefruit, or typing on your computer? Or maybe doing all three like I am doing just now. And then you might throw in a television in the background, playing the Today show and a story about a paralyzed former pro basketball player who is trying to learn to walk again. Not to mention the clothing that I have in the laundry. That is my kind of multi-tasking. But sometimes it digresses into a big batch of white noise and I can’t think of anything at all. It only makes sense if you are aware of what you’re doing in this moment.
How did you wake up this morning? Was it a kiss from your loved one? Was it because you had to go to the bathroom? Did you wake to an alarm clock? Was it a bell, buzzer, song or talk radio? Did you lie in bed until the very last minute or did you leap out of bed to face the new day? I like to split the difference. I wake before the alarm, sometimes hit the On button, lay in bed listening to NPR for a half-hour or so, then leap up to face the day. I like to get a snap shot of news, traffic and whether to start the day.
What did you eat this morning? Did you skip breakfast to get a little ahead on that diet that you’ve been trying out? Are you going to eat a bigger meal later to make up for it? Maybe you had some grapefruit and coffee like me, or a bowl of cereal or oatmeal, or toast or a bagel. Did you use butter or margarine? Jelly or jam? Mustard or mayonnaise? Did you drive through your favorite fast food joint for an Eggiemuffin? Or maybe you stopped off at the sit-down for a grand slam barnyard bustin’ steak and eggs waffle cake. And that’s just your breakfast choices.
Let’s take a look at these options. If you skipped breakfast how does this affect your meal choices the rest of the day? If you went to the drive-thru did you dribble anything on your shirt or scald your tongue on the new premium coffee? If you ate in the car, did it give you indigestion? How did this effect your day? Let’s say you went to your favorite sit-down restaurant. How much coffee did you drink? Was the plate clean and the mug unstained? How was the service? Did you server smile at you? Did you smile back? Was he having a good day? Did you make it a little better or a little worse? How much did you tip? Was the amount you tipped related to the service, or is that just who you are? Did you help him make his rent, or will he have to try a little harder for the rest of his shift. You are the butterfly that flitted through his day.
Regardless of where you ate, what did you put in your body? How much thought did you give to your order? Did you research the nutritional value? Bacon or sausage, whole grain or bleached, cheese or no cheese, plain or lettuce, tomato, and assorted condiments? Each one of these choices has affects the nutrition of the food that you eat and the effect that it has on your body. Does it matter what you eat? Do you have what we used to call a cast-iron stomach? Is your metabolism such that you can eat whatever and not gain a pound? Most of us are not like that. I have been battling a bulge since I was a kid. I will always have love handles. But does that mean that I shouldn’t be cognizant of what I eat?
Absolutely not. Every move we make and every choice we take has consequences. There is contingency in every single thing that we do. If we choose to eat that Baconator, somewhere down the food chain a pig paid the price. If we choose to go with the three-egg omelet instead of the two-egg, that extra bit of cholesterol could lead to a heart attack five years from now. If we get the milkshake instead of the glass of iced tea, there will be a subtle change in your body chemistry that could have long-lasting effects. I’m not saying that you need to become a tree-hugging, animal-loving vegetarian. Just be mindful of your choices and how they affect the world around you. It’s a ripple effect.
Even if we are not the variable in our action, there is still contingency. If your alarm doesn’t go off, you can over-sleep and feel like you’re behind all day. If you’re behind, you feel as if you have to make compromises in your routine to get to work on time. If you go through the drive-thru, you might order the food that catches your eye through the pretty picture. If you take the first bite and it doesn’t meet your expectations, you’ll still eat it because you don’t have the time to take it back and complain.
If you do make it to the sit-down, there is still contingency in every move. If you get there twenty seconds earlier, you might get to sit in Megan’s section instead of Daniel’s. If Daniel is having a bad day, he can affect the quality of your food or the temperature of your coffee. If you complain or send it back, his day gets even worse. And then you decide not to tip. His day, maybe even his month goes into the crapper. Maybe he goes home and beats his girlfriend. Maybe she slips and hits her head on the corner of the coffee table. Maybe she dies. Maybe he gets charged, goes to jail, gets twenty-five to life. All of this happened because you got to the restaurant twenty seconds too late. This is an extreme example, but it accurately depicts the contingency that is interwoven into our life.
Life is contingency. All around us little unseen butterflies are flitting around, waiting to start or prevent the next tornado in our lives. By being mindful and cognizant of the choices that we make in life can open a window into the wonders of life. The past will never to be repeated. The future is contingent, completely beyond your control. Those butterflies are there to make it so. Be here now. Now is all you’ve got.