“…the tiny imprecision built into each calculation rapidly takes over, because this is a system with sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Before long, the signal disappears and all that remains is noise
--James Gleick on the dynamicist’s dilemma in Chaos
: Making of a New Science
In America, white symbolizes birth and purity. But I understand that in Japan and other Asian countries, it is black that represents birth, a sign of how life springs from emptiness, how form is created from that which has no observable form.
Quite a few years ago I saw a spectacle that changed my appreciation of life, and at the same time, humbled me, reminded me of my insignificance.
I was driving through the residential neighborhood in which I lived at the time towards home. This was a neighborhood of older brick townhouses, a minimally upscale settlement in a working-class town. It was a beautiful spring day. Red tulips and yellow and white daffodils were visible in many of the well kept yards.
The street I was on had stop signs at every other intersection. Enough to prevent people from totally racing through streets where children might be playing, but too few to slow people determined to speed.
I was driving behind a car that was racing from stop sign to stop sign. As the driver closed on the next intersection, a black cat suddenly stepped off the curb on the car’s right. It was the kind of moment when you would like to close your eyes but can’t. My windows were rolled down and I did not hear the expected sound of impact. For a moment I thought that the car had passed over the cat without harming it.
In the next second as the car sped on I saw a sight which I will never forget. I was born and raised in a small city, and my only exposure to the varied phenomena of death came from my grandparents who had been raised in the country. The car had apparently struck the cat in such a way that it’s cat’s spinal cord was severed, but it’s body was not crushed under the automobile’s wheels.
What I saw was the body of the cat in it’s death throes, repeatedly springing at least three feet from the pavement without the use of it’s legs. It traced black and red pinwheels in the air, it’s movement the result of the random firings of neurons in it’s dying body.
Stunned and sickened, I watched until the cat’s body finally and without warning came to rest on the street. No one else was in sight, leaving me with the impression that this sight was meant for me alone to see. The car, the messenger who had initiated the cat’s death, was nowhere in sight—anonymous as the cat itself. I drove the rest of the way home, changed forever in a way I still cannot adequately describe.
At a future time, on another street, I am waiting for L to meet me at Donna’s coffee shop. It has been awhile since we have talked in person and I am eager to see her. We are in that funny faux season between winter and spring. I stand outside the shop, hands shoved in my pockets, watching the people walking by. Both L and I have lived in this neighborhood at various times, a slightly upscale, slightly worn student ghetto adjacent to a prestigious university. This neighborhood, sandwiched between white flight and gentrification, has gone through several permutations since we last lived here. My relationship with L has gone through at least as many changes.
Finally I see her across the street. The light changes and she begins to walk slowly towards my corner. I have come to love her distinctive gait. As she walks, her hips roll in such a way that it is as though she is riding her hips, upper body still as a centaur’s. When she is lost in thought or tired, one foot turns in ever so slightly. I only learned this year that this is the result of a childhood illness that almost took her life. But she is concentrating now and her gait does not display her vulnerability. Her short blond hair contrasts nicely with her black biker’s jacket. Pierced eyebrows, black scarf tossed carelessly over one shoulder. A serious woman, not to be trifled with.
When she is halfway across the street, a sudden gust of wind catches the scarf and it falls towards the ground. She sees it just as I start to point and the light is about to turn green. She is only halfway across the busy intersection.
Completely out of keeping with the previous gestalt she projected, she dips gracefully with a delicate little hop, catches the edge of the scarf with one finger, and springs back up—blue eyes sparkling, wearing a smile of satisfaction exactly like that of the smile of triumph of a child who has just successfully completed the turnaround jump at the end of a hopscotch board. By the next step and she is riding her hips again, all business again, taking her time, ticking off the impatient drivers.