Have you ever pondered on how your life happened? Everybody looks back when they are old enough on the seemingly minor or obviously life changing decisions that shaped their past and present, but this is an exercise that only works retrospectively, without the benefit of repair. Some decisions were evidently good, judging by the results, others catastrophically flawed in their randomness, carelessness, or inexorable sequence of “buts” and “becauses” that generated them (which, as we know, is the bone structure of Greek tragedy).
Some decisions though are not obvious, neither when you take them, nor later, and you have to really sit and think hard to dig them out of the fabric of your life as pivotal moments. You can’t define them as good or bad because their effects are not yet clear, or because the good or bad is externally associated with your life rather than directly influencing it.
Jane took the subway to the post office downtown in an environmentally conscious effort to minimize her carbon footprint. She walked two hundred feet from the subway to the post office, snug under her umbrella, in the cool rain. She jumped over puddles and accidentally stepped on one of the flower beds with the hiking boots she had worn on her last mountain hike. A little seed fell from the boot grooves to find shelter, water and food for the next season.
As every gardener knows, a plant of unknown provenance is more likely to be an obnoxious weed with the rapacious living habits of Godzilla, but every now and then the statistics favor the opposite. Does it contain the cure for a chronic disease? Does it simply smell nice? Is it at least edible? Will it become invasive? Will it be the next trend in landscape architecture? The point is we don’t know, at least not yet, and Jane most certainly doesn’t have a clue, since she knows little nothing about plants and didn’t notice she had the seed on the sole of her boot anyway. She is consciously taking on the civic effort of reducing pollution, which is something she knows about, while she is unknowingly naturalizing a new plant species in an area that favors its development.
The new plant won’t affect her life, at least not immediately, it may go unnoticed for decades until a curious person with a lot of time on their hands decides to pay it attention. Maybe an older Jane in her golden years gets to enjoy a very flavorful tea she hasn’t tasted before and wonder goodheartedly where it came from, or she opens her window to breathe in a wonderful scent that saturates the air. Or maybe the doctor prescribes her a very complicated pharmaceutical compound extracted from a local plant with a hard to remember Latin name for one of her ailments, or she may simply notice that her cat has significantly less hairballs since it was allowed outside to chew on the unassuming plant.
Did she contribute to reducing the greenhouse effect by walking to the post office? Very likely, although not as much as she did by naturalizing the new plant in her area, thus helping with pollution reduction and the production of fresh oxygen. In the random maze of choices impossible to think through only the certitude of God’s wisdom can keep the soul at peace. How lucky are we that the world managed to keep itself in balance despite our incessant unwitting meddling? I guess Jane, her city and her plant are going to be just fine.
Anyway, if you agonize on the street corner pondering whether you should cross the street or not cross the street, remember there is a distinct possibility that both decisions may be wrong.