Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Butterfly me

As I was driving home today I drove past at least a dozen churches (as I always do). Stuck in some mild traffic (all traffic is mild here in Raleigh) I actually looked at one of the churches. It reminded me of an event of my distant childhood, when my family traveled to Georgia (I think) so my dad could apply to be a minister to a church. My dad gave a sermon, and then we took a tour of the grounds. I remember being incredibly interested by the graveyard in the back yard and the rectory which may or may not have been on the church lot. The minor details aren't important, which is good, because I don't remember many. I don't even really remember much about the church or house or graveyard, which is what sparked today's foggy memory.

As I said, the details aren't significant, but it made me think about What Might Have Been. I don't usually indulge too much into this line of thought, because it frays and turns into complete fantasy extremely quickly. This was more hypothetical and not particularly grounded in any particular concrete decision, but what if my dad had taken that job? Without imagining any specific events into this alternate universe, it made me think about who I really am. Am I a product completely indebted to my particular circumstances? Obviously my home, my wife and my job are solely dependent on decisions that I and others made: if I hadn't worked at Best Buy (a pretty easy thing to change) then I wouldn't have met my friend who eventually introduced me to my wife. At any number of points in the timeline of my life, and the lives of pretty much everyone in the world, a different decision would have resulted in a dramatically different future.

This is all well-worn territory by good and bad science fiction, and I don't intend to go any further down this rabbit hole. It should be obvious to anyone that our lives are products of time. But what about me? Would I like the same music if I had grown up surrounded by country music fans? Would I give a damn about sports if I had been exposed to them as a child? More importantly, would I have the same basic outlook? Would I have lost my faith if I had been the son of a preacher? Would an alternate universe version of me be similar - or even recognizable - to the actual version of me that we all know and love? I'd like to think so, but I have no way to know.

My theory is that we are probably all who we are, regardless of circumstance, but the actual effects of circumstances and events are deeper-reaching than I can imagine. The essence of me is just a sliver of what people recognize. I certainly don't want to get into a fantasy about what might have been different, and since I don't know anything about the human mind and know even less about genetics, I'll have to leave the speculation off at this point. It doesn't matter, because I am happy and comfortable with who I am now, regardless of who I might have been.

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