Thursday, May 3, 2012

Death, Butterfly Effect, and Ultrarunning

[photo by Gary, click to enlarge, ESC to return]

On McLanahan Road, a sleepy rural road that I infrequently run on, I came across one of those makeshift roadside memorials, above.  When the foliage is out you really cannot see it as you drive by, so this is a place for people on foot.  Since part of the memorial is a small motorcycle, I figured it was the spot where a motorcycle rider, Eric Ford, 28 (a stranger to me), left the road and crashed, dying in the process.

Then last week, near the memorial, I was hauling some foundation rocks out of an old barn for use in building some limestone steps in my Hosta garden (see photo at bottom).   I was chatting with Preston, the landowner on whose property the old barn foundation and the roadside memorial sit.  He told me that the death was not an accident; rather, Eric Ford parked his motorcycle in the middle of the road, walked into the woods, and killed himself with a gun.

I can't imagine a situation where I would prefer death to life, for I have not walked in those shoes.  But I got to thinking about the so-called butterfly effect, via Wikipedia:

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane's formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before.

Since this memorial was revealed via running, when I ran by there again today I wondered whether my stopping to view the memorial, or talking to Preston about it, or later thinking about life and death and suicide, would have some later butterfly effect on my life...that somehow I might be more careful on the roads or trails, that I'd skip some slightly risky behavior, or even just say something helpful to a friend or family member who might be struggling.

Of course there is no answer, but this is just a single example of the types of thoughts that flit around my brain while I am running.


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