Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Butterfly Effect (again)

Meters swum today: 1700
Playing in the background: Silence (hello, darkness my old friend)

I think I mentioned a while back that another swimmer commented on how I do butterfly "even when we're not required to" and how that inspired him to throw some butterfly into his workout. At the time I thought this was damned odd--I mean, the guy is a former Olympic contender whereas I'm this short little fat chick and you wouldn't think he needed people like me to inspire him. Which, I thought, just goes to show you never know who might be watchin'.

I've got bad news. People are watchin' all the time.

I went to an OA convention last weekend, which was just amazing. And I met this woman, whose name I of course can't tell you, who then showed up at the regular meeting I go to on Thursdays. She said to me how inspired she was by the way I laugh. I sound so happy, she said. I must be a happy person, she said. And I thought, "Is she kidding?" I mean, yeah, I laugh more often than I scream, but that's mainly by choice. I think of myself as being reasonably content most of the time but I would have never put myself into the category of "happy person." And I wouldn't really think anything of this whole thing about how I laugh if I hadn't been to a movie with Joan a few weeks back ("Coraline") where a man turned around and said, to Joan, "Your laughter made the movie for me." (Joan does have a nice laugh.)

"Intervention" on A&E is one of my favorite programs. (No, I'm not changing the subject, just going off on one of my tangents.) In case you're not familiar with the concept, the documentary crew follows around some drug addict or alcoholic as he/she makes his/her way through his/her train wreck of a life. Supposedly the addict does not know he/she is about to be pushed into an intervention with his/her family members and friends, but hey, the show's been on the air for a couple of years now and any addict who doesn't at least suspect something might be up has not been paying attention. Course, addicts are not known for paying attention.

I think the reason I like this show so much (is like the right word? It's compelling, but I'm not sure I like it) is that it lets us see an example of the damage one alcoholic or drug addict does, not only to his own life but to the lives of everybody who loves him. On one episode we had a woman who was so far gone into alcoholism that she'd fall down drunk in front of her minor children. Her husband had kicked her out of the house, and the documentary crew asked him the logical question, "Why do you even let her see the kids? It can't be good for them." The husband said he didn't want to give the alcoholic wife even one more reason to drink by keeping the kids away from her. Is that a logical position? Hell no. Does it make any parenting sense whatever to let little kids see their mother passed out on the front lawn, possibly in an alcoholic coma, maybe even dead? Hell no. Yet simply by having this woman in his life, the husband's judgment was altered enough to make this seem reasonable. It took one of the therapists on the documentary crew to explain to him that somebody needed to step up and be the adult in this situation. There are other examples - relatives that won't kick a heroin addict out of the house because "then would where he go?" or who give their addicted kid money "so she won't have to steal or prostitute herself to get her fix." It's like the addict family member is the Einsteinian heavenly body that warps the space-time around him or her and distorts everything that passes by.

"Intervention." Laughter. The butterfly effect. It got me to thinking; If one drug addict can wreak this much havoc on this many people, how many people are affected for the better because one of their friends or family members is a happy person? If one guy cutting you off in traffic can ruin your whole morning, can a total stranger stopping to help you open a door when you have your arms full of groceries (presuming, for the sake of the argument, that he's not a serial killer) make your whole day? Suppose there's a lady with a screaming kid on the bus. Instead of grumbling to yourself under your breath or snapping at her to shut the kid the hell up, you instead turn to her and say, "I know kids can be frustrating sometimes. I just want you to know I think you're doing a great job." Then what happens? Maybe nothing, but maybe she doesn't have feel guilty because everybody on the bus is mad at her besides being worried about her kid, whose brother died a few days ago and he hasn't stopped screaming since.

Buddha wasn't really known for pithy sayings, but he did say something to the effect of, "If you only remember one thing I said, remember to conduct yourself in such a way as to reduce the suffering of others when you can, and at the very least don't increase the suffering of others." Which is to say, do the butterfly. Laugh a lot. And don't snap at people on buses when you can say something nice instead. I'm just sayin'.


Alis said...

I know what you mean, Jen. I helped a lady with a huge heavy suitcase up the stairs on the tube when I was in London last week and she was so grateful you'd think I'd at the very least saved her life! I like the thought of turning to the fraught mum of the little kid too - you do think everybody's judging you when your child makes a noise and you can't persuade them to stop.

Jackie said...

It's amazing how little things can make a person's day. While I've always tried to be friendly and upbeat, I have never been one to out-of-the-blue give people compliments... especially talented people. I guess I thought they already knew it, so why did they need to hear it from me? Which is most likely just a really stupid excuse for my being backwards and shy.

What I've noticed lately is that I can, indeed, be an encourager. And it makes MY day, too. A couple weeks ago, I asked the barista at Dunn Bros if he was going to sing and play at our open mic night. "nah, I didn't bring my guitar," he said, looking down. I said "I REALLY enjoyed it the last time you played. You were awesome!" He looked up and smiled really big, like he couldn't believe I thought he was awesome. If only you had heard this kid play, you would know that "awesome" is an understatement. The things he did with a guitar! Wow! It was as if he was making sweet love to the instrument. And his songs were captivating.

I said "oh yeah! There was one song in particular that kind of reminded me of Heart. You're really good. So you need to play tonight. You're welcome to borrow my guitar." The kid lit up. And it made me feel great that he felt appreciated.

And my guitar, Sophia, had never experienced such heaven... if you know what I mean. :)

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that EVERYONE loves encouragement... and we can never encourage someone too much, so why hold back? It spreads the love ... like a butterfly.

David Isaak said...

People are watching? No fair. I mean, I watch them and all, but it isn't supposed to be a two-way sort of gig.

Oh, and as to the 2012 thing mentioned in an earlier post, I don't think I'd exactly call it a "hoax." The reason for the focus on 2012 is because it's the end of the Mayan Calendar. It run out then. No more time.

We don't really know what they thought that meant to them. Maybe just, well now we'll have to go get a new calendar, which is a real pain when you can use yours for thousands of years and they are engraved on giant stones weighing several tons. You can't exactly run down to Staples and pick up a few.

I've known about the Mayan end of time since, gee, I dunno, maybe 1971? But it's only recently that people have started to come up with lame physical reasons why there will be a disaster.

Nobody said there'd be a disaster. Just the end of time. I don't assume that means an asteroid hits the Earth or some plantary alignment causes the continents to sink, I figure that means that everything sort of stops even if you're

Jen said...

Hi, David! the middle of typing something? That would suck.

I won't go into my "why the year 2012 end of the world thing is a bunch of hooey" rant again but I will say, if it weren't for the stupid conquistadors burning the entire library of the Aztecs (on par with Alexandria, some say) then we'd know if the last phrase of the calendar was, "By 2012, need to invent Staples so can buy new calendar."

Jen said...

Hi, Jackie!

See, this is why I was never interested in teaching. It horrifies me to think I might permanently warp the minds of 30 little humans just because I was in a bad mood one day.

Jen said...

Hi, ALis!

Not only that, but what goes around comes around. I was in London in 2004 with Joan and we had occasion to run after a guy with the bag he had left on the tube by accident (this before any stray bag was thought to be explosive, mind). A few days later a guy came running after us with Joan's PURSE (with her wallet and passport in it) that she had accidentally left on the tube. I still get chills about that one.

David Isaak said...

Frankly, I don't care if people want to believe that time will end in 2012 because that's when the Mayan calendar ends. It's as good a belief as many.

Actually, the Mayans believed there had been other time cycles before ours. They were just a little vague on what happened in between. (Burning the codices probably didn't help, but the fact is they were already using the calendar around 600 BC, so they probably didn't really think much about 2012.)

As a belief, like the tooth fairy, or the Immaculate Conception, it's fine with me. It only bugs me when they start to try and make sense out of it by correlating it with physical reality. If you want to believe in something on faith alone, why trot out evidence?