Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 15, 2024

I’m scared of the butterfly effect

By BUSE KOLDAS | December 5, 2023



Koldas reflects on how seemingly insignificant decisions affected the trajectory of her life. 

This Thanksgiving was full of gratitude, coziness and nostalgia for me because I spent it revisiting a family I got to know back in 2019 and haven’t seen since: the Gatniks, the family that hosted me when I flew to the U.S. for the first time in my life back in ninth grade as part of an exchange trip.

Over Thanksgiving dinner, the Gatniks and I got to talk about how grateful we were that our schools had organized such a trip and how lucky we were that their daughter and I were the ones whom our teachers chose. It was mind-blowing to think about how seemingly insignificant decisions can drastically change your life. How did I end up adopting a second family whom I feel close enough to spend my first Thanksgiving with, just because my ninth-grade self thought hosting an American would be (quoting from my application file) “really cool”?

This realization filled me with appreciation for all my past decisions — even the ones I deeply regret. I’m incredibly thankful for the life I have, and it feels like I wouldn’t change a single thing about my former choices because I know that even changing one decision would be equivalent to losing some part of myself.

Something as simple as not taking the room temperature preference question in the housing application seriously caused me to get paired with the best roommate I could ever ask for, who became a sister to me, one whom I regularly have fights with because she likes the room freezing cold while I prefer to keep it at a humane level. Marking a different temperature interval from the many options, which at the time (to both me and her) didn’t even seem like a significant choice, could have deprived us of each other’s rapport. I cannot help but ponder anxiously: What if we actually deliberated our answers to that question and put in our well-thought preference and, as a result of the butterfly effect, completely missed out on getting paired with each other and growing this close?

All of the decisions I have made until now — even the ones that are seemingly frivolous — have constructed this current version of myself. The possibility that I could have made just one of them differently and missed out on an opportunity because of the notorious butterfly effect terrifies me. However, what scares me even more is the opportunities I may have missed out on that I have no way of knowing about.

When I reflect on it, the only reason why I’m grateful for my choices (beyond them not resulting in a catastrophe but rather a life I am content and fulfilled with) is because I have no perception of any other possibility. I simply don’t know what my life would look like if I slightly altered its trajectory. There are probably billions of versions of me living in different timelines with remarkably different lives. I’m pretty sure at least a quarter of them wouldn’t want to change a single decision they made, either.

Deep inside, no matter how content I am with where my choices led me, I know that among all of those versions of me, there exists one Buse that is the happiest of us. Maybe she made the decision to pull more all-nighters and ended up at Harvard, or maybe she traveled to a small European country and married a prince she met at a nightclub. Is the realization that I probably did not make the most optimal decisions going to give me qualms?

There is no end to contemplations like this. I cannot change the past, and beyond that, no matter how happy this aforementioned Buse is, I’m positive that even she would not be able to experience the exact contentment and blessedness I feel being at the place I am right now. What else is there to do but experience this serenity as fully and deeply as possible?

This is easier said than done, as life is not only about ups. Something that helps me when I have my downs (those episodes where I look back and regret a part of the past) is to search for “signs.” Some indication that will reassure me that I’m in the right place at the right time. Such little coincidences appease me.

One such coincidence occurred a few weeks ago when four of my friends and I felt like taking a late-night walk and didn’t even know where we were headed. We found ourselves strolling to the Beach, where we discovered five chairs arranged in the shape of a circle as if someone prepared them for us specifically, just so we would take a seat and re-evaluate our lives.

For some, this might not be more than a minor, trivial detail. It is not an odd fortuitousness that someone left a seating circle for five, and we happened to be there right after they left, and I’m not trying to make a point that it is one, either. However, there is something special about coincidences like this if you know how to think about it. In my eyes, the way it all lined up perfectly was quite heartwarming and exhilaratingly beautiful.

Recognizing such coincidences and treating them as a reassurance that I’m on the right path alleviates my anxiety and gives me the strength to keep going. My advice for you is to search and appreciate these types of signs so you can find loveliness in the choices that led you to this point in your life. That way, maybe you can find something to feel infinite thankfulness and admiration for, similar to my sentiments toward my second bed in my exchange family’s home or the circle of chairs at the Beach.

Buse Koldas is a freshman from Istanbul, Turkey studying Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

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