In Defense of the Butterfly Effect: Daily fallout

The other day, a friend of mine read some poetry out loud that he was learning for an Italian class. One didn’t have to know what the words meant in order to appreciate the expressions and experience how beautiful they sounded together, the blended “r” and emphatic “l” of the language dancing around each other in a sonorous flow. It hardly occurred to me to ask what the poet was expressing when I couldn’t even venture a guess as to what most of the words meant – too deep. However, through a vague understanding of the language, a single phrase was decipherable and has stuck with me — “a single rain drop falls on a leaf / spreading through the entire forest.”

Far away from a forest, this is what it is like, at times in the worst of ways. A single spot of disillusionment can spread its pain from one person to another. These days, at least in this country, one tragedy seems to make space for another with no room for pause. The world stretches itself, crackling on an increasingly unsteady frequency. None of us is separate from it, and each is left looking at the other for how to respond.

The news cycle fuels confusion in its relentless churn, urging readers to care and then flipping on, eclipsing the possibility of real processing. More chaos. A shot is heard round the world in an instant. A single notification, once opened, can amplify the pain it contains, spreading across the forest of our hearts. It rains and rains, and you can witness it live while you are supposed to be doing math homework.

New technologies are meant to help us access information that we can integrate skillfully, but this is impossible when new messages arrive every few moments. Bad news is harder to look away from. In a twisted way, it makes sense: the same distractions from the work we don’t want to get to and the things we don’t want to look at, if obeyed, will pull our minds into a dark digital sea. New media is a double-sided mirror that laughs darkly, tricking us into tapping our way out of here and likely somewhere uglier.

In this context, the news apps on my phone have been deleted. A single action, this one in a more positive direction. People on the street who pass may get a presence, a smile, instead of a weird upward glance. Just the thought brings me happiness. Perhaps we are raining all the time.

Others may convince you that the world is this big thing out there somewhere, much larger and more important than where you are. But listen to a whole poem in a language you don’t understand and see if they are really right. Know that all the small acts of bravery and most of the good fight will go unreported, but don’t think this is unlucky. Past the ache of a frenzied world, through your clamor to be recognized, rain on your own and smile, knowing that the forest is keeping score.

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