Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Baseball and the Butterfly Effect

Opening Day of baseball is upon us and while I’m not a diehard fan, I do enjoy an occasional good diversion.  My all time favorite game was one I saw in early September awhile back.  I had front row seats in a company box right over home plate.  It was Cal Ripken’s final day to play against us, the weather was amazing, as only a clear warm autumn Seattle day can be, and my team even won.  A couple of days later the world would become a little darker and change us all, but that one afternoon was perfect. 

I was drawn to The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, originally because of its connection to baseball, and though baseball is featured in the book, it is about so much more.  When I first tried to write, I found myself creating a book report which was not my intention.  There are plenty of good reviews online, I wanted something else.  Instead, I stepped away and read another book, How it All Began, by Penelope Lively.  It was then I realized some similarities between the books, since both were, at some level, about chaos theory.  Or it is also known, the butterfly effect.

In each, as a group of characters goes about their lives, something happens that reverberates through their existences.  In one, Henry, an enormously gifted college baseball player makes a bad throw and someone gets seriously injured.  In the other, Charlotte, an elderly school teacher, gets mugged on the streets of London.  What transpires is a series of events that might not have happened otherwise: people are thrown together who might not have met, mistakes are made, connections are missed, links are made, relationships break up and new ones are started.  The trajectories of lives change direction.  

How does one misguided 14 year old affect the marriage of two people he’s never met and most likely never will in the future?   Or, why does one bad throw of a baseball take down a college president?  But both happen.  

It made me speculate about how much we affect each other’s day as we wander.  That smile you got or gave might ripple out, perhaps to one whose life was on the brink and it was what they needed to brave out another day.  What about the reverse of that?  Consider what might happen if you’ve dumped your bad day on another?  What unknown person will feel the effect of that growl?  I’m not saying we’re all responsible for everything another feels, but when we review our lives and think of the choices made along the way and how they may have hurt or helped another, it does make you pause a bit. 

How It All Began, set in London, directly addresses the tentacles of chaos theory and how this one small mugging affects a group of mostly ordinary and mostly middle aged people.  The Art of Fielding is set at a small Wisconsin college, next to Lake Michigan. This story takes us through the challenges that face four college kids, who, already on the edge, go into a tailspin after the accident.  Plus there’s the added bonus of the poor decisions by the fifth key character, the college president, who really should have known better.   

Though they are very different books, in each, there were choices that changed lives, some for the better, some not.  What I found curious is that once things returned to semi-normal, there were people who changed a little less or who were able to more easily settle back into their lives.  I guess there are always some who simply learn how to adjust to life’s trials better than others do.  Or, is it that they’re more changed than we know but simply accept that and know how to hide it better?  Is the glass half full or half empty?  Do we know?

For me, though, I guess I’d prefer to look at it as half full.  So it is the perfect September afternoon at Safeco Field that I choose to remember, not the dark days that followed.  And though each book was compelling in its own way, I think I should read something a little more fun next.  Perhaps a good old fashioned murder mystery…


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