Is this the life I’m supposed to be living? Or has everything bad that’s ever happened to me been the fault of some stupid butterfly?
The first time I heard about the butterfly effect was in “Issac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History,” by Erik Larson. The book tells the story of the hurricane that decimated Galveston, Texas in 1900. Early on, Larson describes how winds converged in Nigeria, causing a zone of instability, which, several weeks later, traveled across the ocean to affect North America. This section ends, “Somewhere, a butterfly opened its wings.”
The butterfly effect is a term coined by Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist and mathematician. It’s a major part of chaos theory, a branch of mathematics. Simply put, it means that even a small change at the outset can lead to a big change in the outcome.
You can read about it on Wikipedia. Or better yet, you can read it in novel form in Stephen King’s newest release, “11/22/63.”
If you don’t count King’s book “On Writing,” (sort of like taking a writing class from the man himself), this is the first of King’s fiction books I’ve read. I’m not a horror gal, although I’ve read and enjoyed a few things that surprised me over the last couple of years. This book was one of them. And it’s is all about the butterfly effect; in fact, actual butterflies appear throughout the novel.
In this story, the butterfly effect shows that there can be tragic consequences even to noble actions. Sometimes, as horrifying as an event may be, it’s better than the alternative. Perhaps as a result of tragedy, people change, become better people.
That happened in the season finale of my favorite TV show, “Community.” I don’t think any of you would like it, but trust me, it’s #CoolCoolCool.
In the episode titled “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the Greendale gang accidentally created the darkest of all possible timelines for their lives through a game of Yahtzee. So for the rest of the season, they’ve been living from one tragedy to another. But when they get to the season finale, they find that the darkest timeline didn’t end up quite so dark. People changed, became better people.
I don’t pretend to understand chaos theory or the butterfly effect. But these modern stories somehow say more to me than most sermons. They say that I’m right where I need to be — in the proper timeline — butterfly or no butterfly.