Effect of the Butterfly

I have a routine I follow to the letter on Sunday mornings:  read the Writer’s column, read PostSecret.

Scrolling through this week’s postcards, I noticed that Frank posted a link to a blog entry that his former mail carrier, Kathy, had written the other day.  She and her husband moved to England earlier this year but she took the time to share a wonderful remembrance of delivering the hundreds of thousands of secrets to Frank for the PostSecret project over the past several years.

I remember feeling sad when Frank posted that Kathy was leaving.  I, like so many others, welcomed his new postal carrier knowing the project would continue.  I’m sure Kathy’s going to enjoy the flood of comments she receives to her entry.  There were 79 posted comments when I read it and there are many more sure to be posted in the days ahead.  Many of the commenters shared how Kathy and her co-workers had affected the writer’s life simply by delivering the mail.

All of this got me thinking about the “Butterfly Effect” and so I decided to do a little research on the term.  Of all that I found, this article was the most interesting.  It’s a 2008 Boston Globe article on how pop culture got the theory wrong.  I wonder, though, did we?  In our quest to find a reason that things happen: weather occurrences, natural disasters, the progression of personal events … you name it … we’ve adopted the theory that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could be the catalyst for a tornado half a world away.

Sure, the theory is flawed.  But who’s to say that one innocent, insignificant, and immediately forgotten comment said several years ago wasn’t the catalyst that caused the deterioration of a marriage, a business, a government this year?  It may not have been, but what if it was?  And that’s the beauty of the Butterfly Effect.  While the flapping of a butterfly’s wings probably wasn’t the catalyst for the weather disturbances leading up to a tornado on the other side of the world, what if it was?

What if my seemingly innocent comment to a young student is internalized by said student and it adversely effects him for the rest of his life?  What if my smile and “thank you” to the grocery store cashier is all the affirmation she receives all day and this simple act provides her with the flicker of energy she needs to make it through to the next work day?  What if the “Butterfly Effect” helps me to continually remember that I can either positively or negatively impact other people simply in the way I look at them?

I’m thinking that whether the theory refers to a scientific question or an indicator of the human condition, the knowledge that “innocent” comments or actions could be the antecedent for future more extreme behaviors or reactions is enough.  I have to remember that my life impacts the lives of those around me, whether through random meetings between strangers or frequent encounters with friends and family, in ways I would never dream possible.

This is what I’m sure Kathy is realizing now.  She is being blessed with the revelation of how her years of service to her local Post Office impacted people’s lives.  Hundreds are honoring her today and will continue to do so in the days to come.

May we all be so fortunate to know how we impact the lives of others!

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