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An Ode to Life’s “What Ifs”

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Krea chapter.

What if the wire fence surrounding my home was orange instead of the dreary black I had grown to dismiss, could things have been different? Would an orange fence have tinted my life a little brighter? Would I have a more positive outlook on things now? 

Do you ever catch yourself wondering what could have been? Maybe if you had the chance to go back in time and fix that one mistake, to correct that one pivotal error? It could be as trivial as staining your shirt right before a big presentation. The embarrassment causes you to stutter to no avail, and even blank out on several important points during the presentation. Then, after it’s over, you stand before the bathroom mirror, trying to frantically wipe away brown blotches of coffee. You’re bound to wish you hadn’t gotten that coffee to drink before class, which you then wouldn’t have spilled on your freshly ironed white button-up, and therefore, you wouldn’t have flunked your presentation. Then again, maybe the presentation would have been unsuccessful even with a clean shirt, there’s no way of knowing for sure. Yet, in all my years of overthinking, it is not often that I have found myself wondering whether the smallest, most unsuspecting things could ripple out into much larger changes… 

What if the almond trees outside my bedroom window hadn’t been struck down by a storm years ago? Would I still pick falling almond fruit on monsoon afternoons, like I used to as a kid? Would I still have grown to hate almonds as I do now? 

Perhaps if I had chosen not to pick up that five rupee coin off the ground yesterday, it would have found its way to a more deserving person.

Or perhaps not. I will never know. 

The butterfly effect is the popular theory that an occurrence as insignificant as a singular butterfly flapping its wings could end up causing a storm. In essence, it is the idea that small events, in culmination, can result in a significant outcome. When I first heard of the butterfly effect, I thought of it as yet another half-baked premise for the new string of hallmark Christmas movies. But upon closer inspection, I noticed that it is somewhat true to life. Each choice that we make can be a determinant of our futures and the futures of others. Of course, in movies, we see a small change altering the entire course of history. But in real life, we can only speculate on what could have been, or what could change in the future if one chooses to do things even slightly differently. You might be surprised at how many of these chain reactions go unnoticed in life, in fact, one Reddit user BrStFr recounts their own experience on an r/AskReddit thread: 

“The older I get, the more I am constantly cognizant of the vast cascade of seemingly insignificant decisions and actions that led me to where I am. For example, a decision 25 years ago to change a refrigerator light bulb before going out resulted in my being at the “wrong” time and place so as to get mugged, which resulted in my decision to move out of the city I had been living in, which resulted in my meeting my wife, and from there to having all my kids and the whole shebang. I would have had a different whole shebang had I not changed that lightbulb that afternoon, but the path to the present leads through that (and a thousand other) similarly trivial decisions…”

The point is that many of the decisions we make may not have the intended end results, and that’s perfectly fine. Moreover, you can’t control all that changes around you and it is best not to discount the power of things that usually go unnoticed. Who knows, maybe my choice to write this article at this very moment could impact my life or someone else’s. Perhaps your decision to read it wherever you may be right now could change the trajectory of your day, or perhaps not. Whatever the case may be, it is interesting to think about all that could have been and all that will ever be, based just on this one moment.

Hi :) I'm Shipra, an avid literature major at Krea. I'm a bit of a homebody, so you'll usually find me in my room, curled up with a good novel or a horror flick. I absolutely love writing, I think it's a great means to communicate the most intricate human emotions.