“If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk. When you give him the milk, he’ll probably ask you for a straw. When he’s finished, he’ll ask you for a napkin.”
Nearly 45 years ago, during the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Edward Lorenz posed a question: “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”
The concept referred to as the butterfly effect has been embraced by popular culture, where the term is often used to emphasize the outsize significance of minute occurrences. This is what I’m more curious about. It's all around us. It’s even the theme of the book that I read to my kids almost daily, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”. By giving that mouse the cookie, you are setting off a chain reaction of minute occurrences that changes everything later in the story.
If I zig rather than zag, no one notices in that millisecond, but how have I altered my timeline down the road… tonight quite literally down the road.
In one of my timelines, I died tonight. At 6:55pm I was driving down the highway at 110 km/hr when all of a sudden a 300 pound buck deer landed on the windshield of my minivan, crushing me and causing my vehicle to swerve into the car next to me while simultaneously being hit from behind as the truck tailing me slammed into me flipping me into the ditch, while four other vehicles on the road all tried unsuccessfully to avoid the collision themselves. When the glass, car parts, dust, carcass and blood finally settled, seven vehicles and an annihilated animal were strewn across the highway.
But that’s not the timeline I lived tonight. Tonight two butterflies flapped their wings. The first one put me at the exact spot of the accident at 6:55pm. The second butterfly had me arrive precisely four minutes later to witness the scene at 6:59pm rather than be a part of it.
If we ever order pizza, we do it on Monday night as most of the local shops have huge incentives on Mondays. Tonight on top of it being Monday, I had enough points saved up that our entire order came to a whopping $1.38. So, I ordered the pizza online at 6:21pm and a few minutes later I took off to go get it.
Why didn’t I have it delivered, you may ask? Well, if I go out to pick it up it’s gets me out of the house for 15 minutes. It gets me away from the screaming kids. It gets me away from Madison’s incessant nursery rhymes. It gives me a brief escape to catch my breath so I can finish the night strong. That and I can save the $5 delivery charge.
At 6:43pm I arrived at the pizza place to find an empty order board and nothing in their warming oven. I discovered that when I ordered the pizza, for some reason the app auto selected a location 20 kilometers away as my default location - even after having ordered from this closer location for over a year now.
So at 6:45pm I decided that rather than reordering my pizzas and paying full price for them at the location I was currently at, it would be worth the drive to pick them up from the other location for the discounted price. And so off I went. As I took off, I estimated it would take about 45 minutes to make the trip. It sucked, but that was the cost of my mistake in not confirming all the details before hitting submit on the order form.
But then at 6:46pm out of nowhere, I doubled over in pain as my stomach started having a seizure. I needed a washroom immediately. This is not uncommon, in fact it’s something I’ve silently endured since I was 16 years old. I’ve seen every specialist in Western Canada, I’ve had every test done… twice. I've never been diagnosed. Now, with an MS diagnosis, I’m wondering if this may be a symptom. Regardless, with 20 years experience I know how to deal with these attacks that occur several times a week. But they usually hit me in the morning… and provide a bit more warning. This one was weird.
By 6:48pm the attack had subsided, and I figured I could make it without stopping.
But then at 6:50pm it hit me again. This time with more power and pain. I realized I was stupid for thinking I could continue driving for 45 minutes without stopping or using a washroom especially since I would literally be driving right past my house again.
So at 6:51pm I pulled into my driveway and ran inside real quick.
Four minutes later a notification trilled on my phone as I was merging onto the highway again. I glanced at my phone. It was 6:55pm. I sped up to 110 kilometers/hour and drove down the highway towards the pizza place. Another two notifications trilled on my phone. I was tempted to look, but just as I was about to, I noticed something about a minute ahead that didn’t look right. Later I would see the timestamp of that notification and learn it was 6:58pm at that moment.
A minute later at 6:59pm I drove into the messiest scene I think I’ve ever seen on a highway before. An off duty construction flagger had stopped and was directing traffic into the far left shoulder. It was then that I witnessed the exact details from what could have been my first timeline. As I bounced over a piece of carnage of an obliterated animal, I could see half of its lifeless body still steaming in the middle lane with the rest embedded in the crushed vehicle in the ditch.
People who likely witnessed the catastrophe were rushing around from vehicle to vehicle checking to see if everyone was OK, with most of them surrounding the primary vehicle. All in all, I counted seven vehicles that had been hit or impacted somehow. It was pretty obvious this had occurred in the last three to four minutes.
Two minutes later at 7:01pm, two fire trucks and three ambulances rushed past me towards the site of the accident, full lights, sirens and horns blazing.
I started to tremble a bit as I began putting all the pieces of what I just witnessed together in my head. Had I NOT stopped for those four minutes at my house - where would I have been? The math works out. Check my timestamps. I would have been precisely at the site of the accident at 6:55pm.
I’ve long been a fan, supporter and believer in the Butterfly Effect. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.
The first butterfly tonight flapped its wings and sent me on a much longer trip to go get my pizza tonight. It put me on a course I should never have been on. But then a second butterfly flew into the picture of my life and diverted me by four minutes. I honestly feel that I wouldn’t be here tonight writing this, had I continued driving.
Every second of your life your timeline is adjusting. I don’t think any of us realize the monumental changes that occur to not only our life but also to those who interact with us, from you arriving one minute late to a meeting, or from you speeding through that yellow light instead of stopping at it. It literally puts you in a different place at a different time. It adjusts your timeline.
Now all of this is fascinating to me, and I probably spend too much time thinking about it as ultimately there is nothing we can do to stop it, or manipulate it. But tonight I know for a fact that for some reason, my timeline was altered to save my life. If that doesn’t stop you in your tracks - nothing will. Tonight a friend texted me, “did you survive Monday?”. I replied by questioning their choice of words. It seemed to add a layer to what I was already trying to process. How coincidental.
I knew I had to write about this tonight. My brain would explode if I didn’t. I also wanted to post it to Instagram, but what image could I use? Then it hit me. I knew exactly which picture I needed to use. Five months ago, I attended a summer event where my son got his face painted for the first time and he requested two butterflies be painted on his cheeks. Complete coincidence? The universe messing with me? Or something more? I’m not gonna reach or dwell on that aspect too much - I’ll just accept it and use it as my image, but what I am going to dwell on is that every decision you make today, will have an effect on your life (and potentially the lives of those around you).
Every single thing you do matters. You have been created as one of a kind. You have been created in order to make a difference. You have within you the power to change the world.