Andy Zicarelli | Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Look in the mirror next chance you get. Then, look around the room and take note of everything you can. Think about how it got there. Have you ever stopped and wondered how your life got to this exact point?
We have all heard about the butterfly effect. The premise is that a butterfly that flaps its wings in China can cause a tornado in America (or something similar to that). It has been studied by philosophy professors and mathematicians around the world. It was even the premise of a bad Ashton Kutcher movie. And regardless of its accuracy (or lack thereof), it raises an interesting discussion. Life really is all about the little things.
Sure, we have all had our life changing moments: big, momentous occasions packed with a lot of pressure and emotion and the knowledge that our lives will never be the same, regardless of the outcome. For a lot of us, they came in the form of big sporting events, concerts or tough decisions about the future. However, for these, we knew full well going into those decisions what their effect was going to be. Sometimes, though, life throws us a curveball when we aren’t looking for it. Things that would seem to be inconsequential actually have had a bigger impact on our lives then we could have ever imagined at the time.
So I looked in the mirror and thought long and hard this weekend (25 hours on a bus to and from New York will do that to you) about how exactly I got to this point. Here is some of what I came up with:
What if I had been placed in afternoon kindergarten instead of the morning class? I met my first friends in that morning class – the ones that I would spend my entire elementary school life with. Those friends you make will have a huge impact on how you turn out, as elementary schoolers are very impressionable. Who knows how I would have turned out if I was placed in a completely different set of kids? I probably would have had radically different interests.
What if my parents decided not to take me to college football games almost every fall Saturday growing up? It sounds shallow, maybe even lame, but there is no way that I can deny the effect that those games have had on me. By traveling across the country following around Purdue (I know, I know), I developed a very deep – at times obsessive – passion for college football. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I ended up at a college that shares my obsessive passion for the game.
What if there wasn’t an open seat next to the only other boy in my fifth-grade art class? I know what probably would have happened: I would have sat at a table of girls, not said a word and acted uncomfortable all semester (awkwardness is a tough habit to break). Fortunately for me, though, the seat was open. It didn’t matter that I had never met the kid before. His existence, and the fact that I got to sit next to him, was a huge relief to me. So, as the year wore on, we bonded over our art projects and eventually became friendly toward each other. But then, before I even realized it, we were hanging out all the time, whether it was at lunch, at the golf course or at the swimming pool over the summer. Two kids, forced into contact because of my fear of middle-school girls, grew to become best friends. And that friendship lasts to this day, encompassing years of mix tapes, inappropriate jokes and ideas that seemed like a good idea at the time.
It’s amazing how a random computer lottery can change your life forever. What if I had ended up in another dorm instead of Dillon? I would have different friends, a bigger room and maybe even a new dining hall to eat at. We all experience Notre Dame, and to a point we all have similar experiences. But it is pretty obvious that everyone’s experience is shaped by the people and the setting which they are placed into, and it is startling to think that our experiences are simply based on something as impersonal as a random number generator. Where would we all be at if it had turned out differently?
Obviously, I am missing some. But that is the point. You never know what is going to change your life, where it is going to come from or when it is going to happen. And it is impossible to predict. So keep that seat open next to you in lecture. Or don’t. It may not seem like it, but it might just be biggest decision you make in your life.
Andy Ziccarelli is a junior majoring in civil engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.