The Infinite Chain of Causality

Not to get all philosophical on you, but do you ever ponder much about the concept of cause and effect? “Zzzzzz,” you’re thinking to yourself. What’s this idiot on about this week? Bear with me for a moment and I’ll see if I’m able to connect the dots for you.

Several weeks ago, a longtime friend and I were sitting outside the Rogers Centre in Toronto, waiting to watch my beloved Blue Jays get hammered one more time before the players headed off for another long winter of golf. As we munched on our traditional pre-game street meat treat, somehow we got onto the topic of our friendship, which dates back to a particularly random introduction over 30 years ago.

The two of us were both attending an interview session for a popular college program in Kitchener-Waterloo, hoping to be two of just 25 applicants selected from a group of several hundred hopefuls, which, in turn, had already been narrowed down from multiple hundreds more.

Just prior to the interview, I’d realized that, after flying more than a thousand miles to be there, I’d left my entire portfolio back at my hotel room, which was far, far across town. I must have had a particularly dejected look on my face because, suddenly, another potential student came up to ask if I was having a problem.

I explained my dilemma and this kindly stranger offered to drive me back to the hotel and retrieve my missing portfolio. Long story short, this Good Samaritan not only got me to my interview on time, but the pair of us ended up in the same program and became lifelong friends.

Take away any tiny thread in that anecdote and the result is that we never get to know each other – and our lives both take off in completely different directions. Cause and effect, my friends.

But, the story hardly ends there. A few years later, while working in Sarnia, a buddy of mine who lived in Kitchener at the time invited me to come spend the weekend celebrating the 40th birthday of a common friend, who just happens to be the above-mentioned Good Samaritan. Not so strange, you’re thinking. Oh, just wait.

The buddy also happens to have a roommate, someone I had formally worked with in Sarnia. On the same precise weekend, the roommate’s girlfriend just happened to invite her own best friend from Sarnia for a visit.

If you’re wondering where this is all leading, let’s jump ahead a bit. The roommate’s girlfriend and I ended up staying at the same house in Kitchener on the same weekend, hit it off, fell in love, got married, had three wonderful children and, somehow, landed back here where, some quarter-century later yours truly is writing this very column that you’re reading at this precise moment.

So, now you’ve heard the effect of a chance meeting way back in 1981 that would have never happened if, somehow, my friend and I hadn’t both been fated to arrive at exactly the same interview 33 years ago.

But, as my friend pointed out the other week at the Rogers Centre, why stop there? Why not consider the circumstances that led us both to be there on that serendipitous day? Why had I decided to apply for this particular course after being out of school for a year and wondering where I wanted to go with my life? Why had my friend decided to go back to school years and years after working in a civil service job? And how many millions of causes and effects had to take place for our paths to intersect precisely when they did?

Think of your own life and how you ended up where you are at this exact moment. Think of all the causes and effects of all the decisions you’ve made in your life – and exactly how they all link together. And when you’re done that, think back to your parents and what led them to create you in the first place. Or the parents of your spouse or your friends.

Why stop there? Why not consider your parents’ parents and their parents and all the generations that came before them? If any of these dozens or thousands or millions of people you’re considering had made even one tiny alteration in their lives, how would the effects have changed the course of their existence and, in turn, your ultimate existence?
Deep stuff, huh?

As my friend and I finished our snacks and proceeded to return our thoughts to the present, it was with an infinitesimally enlarged perspective of what had brought us to this point in our lives. There is a mystical, magical, spiritual chain that links my friend and I together – and every person who has been part of that chain. Our past, our present and our future are inextricably joined in a great continuum built from the millions of causes and millions of effects that have occurred during the roller coasters of our lives – and long before we were born.

I won’t be with my friend when he celebrates his birthday on October 8th. Perhaps we won’t even talk on the phone or exchange e-mails. But, we will be bonded together nonetheless, just as we have been for more than three decades and, reaching back, as we’ve likely been conjoined for many millennia before that in ways we’ll never know. All courtesy of the infinite chain of causality.

Adventures In Moving

This past week, we helped my youngest daughter move into a new house in St. Catharines where she’ll be going into her fourth year at Brock University. As moves go, it was a pretty uneventful one; three quick trips from one neighbourhood to another, perfectly sunny weather and nothing bigger than a couch to transport. However, it brought up some unwelcome memories of the dozens of other moves I’ve been involved in during my life. I’m sure you’ve got a few of your own that immediately come to mind.

One of my earliest moving “adventures” happened when I was six and our family got uprooted from New Brunswick to Ontario. All our belongings travelled by moving van, while the rest of us went by train. It was the first time I’d ridden the rails, so this was truly an adventure. Of course, I was also moving from the first home I’d ever known to a new school, a new province and a new life. That made it all rather scary for me, especially since it happened halfway through Grade One, my first year of school (New Brunswick had no kindergarten at that time).

When I finished Grade Six, I considered myself in the best place I’d ever been in during my young life. After several years of living in St. Catharines, I’d made tons of great friends, loved where we were living on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, was involved in all kinds of great activities and, honestly, hoped it would never end. Which proves that you should never get too comfortable, because that summer our family headed off to Niagara Falls which, at the time, was a seedy, rundown place with little going for it. It made me realize that if my family was going to be moving every two to three years, there wasn’t much point in setting down roots, establishing deep friendships and getting involved in any long-term activities. That’s a big change to accept.

At the end of high school, the remaining siblings and I were packed up and transported 2,000 km away to the other side of the province, deep in the wilds of Northwestern Ontario. The previous moves were nothing like this one, because it wasn’t just a cultural shock, it was a climate shock, as well. The winters of NWO are something that will remain embedded in my psyche forever. And not in a good way.

Of course, no discussion of moving would be complete without the whirlwind of post-secondary school escapades that anyone who has gone to university or college can understand. There’s something about that time in life that brings out the most nomadic instincts in people. The ratty apartments, the menagerie of broken down furniture and accessories, the constant reconfiguring of roommates – they all add up to the equivalent of some frat house-inspired, b-grade movie you wouldn’t pay two cents to watch in a theatre.

I suppose the only good thing you can say about these beer-fueled, hernia-inducing events is that they provide you with some great stories to tell your own kids when they go through the same thing. If I had to relate one overall impression from these days, it’s how we, somehow, always managed to figure out a way to move the most decrepit, awkwardly-shaped pieces of upholstered furniture (hello, eight-foot long orange sectional!) into the most inaccessible spaces possible.

One particular memory is finally deciding the only way one of these monstrosities would be able to make it into a second-floor bedroom was through a twenty-foot high window overlooking a structurally questionable balcony. Through some elaborate system of ropes and bizarre knots and broken backs, we conquered that beast and lived to tell the tale.

Which brings us to all the moves we’ve been involved in with our own kids as they wend their way through post-secondary life. Honestly, it’s been a pleasure to help them out over the last few years. My parents never got into the whole moving experience and I always vowed that I’d be there for my children whenever they decide to pull up stakes, even if it’s gotten a little crazy sometimes. For the most part, however, it’s been something I’ve really enjoyed and that my kids have always appreciated. After all, what are parents for if not to be there when you’re really needed, whatever the situation?

I’m sure you’ve all had equally interesting moves in your past, ones that have left indelible marks on you, whether good or bad. As well, the one thing you can always say about moving is that it’s never over. There will always be another move in your future – and that means one more awesome story to tell. What will your next moving adventure be?