Monday, April 18, 2011

Butterfly Effect

We had "Get Acquainted Day" last weekend, a day where we meet with accepted students -- some coming to Gettysburg, others undecided -- and we give our pitch explaining what we're all about. It's pretty much the same every year and you're tempted, especially at this time of the semester, to phone it in. But we always make sure to have some of our majors there to provide students' perspectives on the college and department and inevitably you realize that some of them are here because of earlier Get Acquainted Days, that what seems to you banal, yet another thing, can actually be life changing.

We like to point to rituals as the pivotal events -- weddings, graduations, getting the driver's license, turning 21, 30, 65 -- but really, the places and times that change our futures are buried among the mundane and would never be spotted, but for their consequences.

The most important thing I've ever done in my life was playing in my grandparents' backyard when I was 8. I found a pole and a small empty box, put the box on the pole and pretended it was a lacrosse stick. On seeing what I was doing, my mother suggested I try out lacrosse. I did and it changed where I went to college, what I studied, the people I met. I likely would not be a philosophy professor, certainly would not be married to my wife, my children would not be, were it not for that Sunday at my grandparents that was, in all other respects, like countless other Sundays.

As parents, we try to foster those moments for our own kids, trying to control and direct their effects. But it never works. It like throwing a party -- the great ones are never planned, they just happen.

It tempting to prescribe that we ought to live life knowing that anything we do could have this effect, to become hyper-aware of the results of our actions and to make sure we always act in a way that could have the best possible effects. But one could never live that way and, besides, sometimes the best consequences arise from the worst circumstances.

What were the mundane events that changed your life?