You’d think it would be so easy. To have one, I mean. To fire a synapse, to feel inspired, to put words to text on a screen and convey an idea. A coherent thought. Something relatable, yet through a lens you never considered before. To be unique. To put a twist on an old trope. To stand on the shoulders of giants and express what you see. Unimaginable worlds. Unbelievable ideas. It seems like we’re all always on the verge of the next great thought.
Thinking is hard.
Honestly, most of the time, it’s a curse. To think is to think twice. To think is to empathize, to relate, to grasp, to question, to imagine, to understand, to mistake, to be disappointed and to be elated. To think is to use an internal organ for external constructs.
To quote a friend of mine, “It’s all just a thought when you think about it.”
We are thoughts. We are thoughts within thoughts within thoughts. Our conception is an idea. Our birth, to others, is a memory accessible in a thought as easily as we recall yesterday’s weather. Our entire lives, in biographical form, are condensed to a singular thought between two hardcovers, perhaps written by someone we’ve never met. Everything we do, make, say, or hope for is a thought. We are only aware of ourselves because we think.
Otherwise, I imagine a life like that of an ant’s.
We scatter about without direction, wandering until we bump into something that, for some reason, we feel like chewing on. We might even take a piece of it back to our nest. Maybe. Who knows? All we know is that this object demands our attention and we have the digestive system to make good use of it. Then some giant bipedal creature comes along and smashes us dead because we interfered with their weekend picnic. The end.
We’re not ants. But, in the end, we’re not much different.
Luckily (?) we have this thing in our skulls called a brain. It gives us this remarkable power to not only think, but to do things with those thoughts. An ant thinks. Surely. It thinks on the primal, survivalist level. On our end of the spectrum, we take thoughts and create governments and artistic masterpieces, or we solve problems or we commit heinous crimes. We are not as vulnerable to the whims of our biology as much as an ant, thanks to philosophy, thanks to math and science, thanks to religion. We have made ourselves bigger than ourselves. We have thought it so.
Ants have biological hierarchy. A system from nature. We have gridlocked interstate highways and space travel. I don’t think nature ever intended one of its species to leave the atmosphere.
I am proud of our brain. I am proud to be a thinker.
But it is not easy.
Thinking means that we carry doubts and hopes and fears and responsibilities. Thinking can be dangerous. Thinking can be exhausting, especially when it seems like we can never turn it off. Even drugs and alcohol permit some level of thinking, albeit tainted with lowered inhibitions and unjustifiably brilliant hypotheses.
The point is, it’s okay not to know what to think sometimes.
It’s okay to not understand something, to not dwell on the meaning of life, to not analyze every little event of your existence. It is okay to not have answers. It’s okay to stop thinking now and again (hard to do, I know) just to give that muscle in your skull a little rest. We think at work. We think about our paychecks. We go to school to think some more. We think about family and friends and football teams and phone numbers. We think in the short term, the long term, in terms we haven’t even defined.
We think so much. Too much.
Eighty thoughts into a thousand, maybe this seems like a defeatist entry, but fear not. The thinking will continue. The only thought that came to mind tonight was the thought of the difficulties of thinking, the pressures of thinking, the curse and pleasure of thinking.
I won’t stop. I can’t. You can’t either.
We’re not ants, after all.
I’ve changed history.
Not the history we know of, but the history of our future. Everything that happens from this moment on, it’s all because of me. I can’t tell you where it’s all leading. No one knows that. But regardless of how things turn out, let me be the first to apologize for taking all of our fates into my young hands.
I was twelve when it happened.
Recess time. Elementary school. Sunny day. Out on the field. I can still smell the freshly cut grass. I’m there with my buddy, Joey, and we’re having the time of our lives, being young and away from our desks.
The butterfly was orange, with black around the edges of its wings.
To be fair, butterflies usually only live for weeks or months at a time (at most, a year). This butterfly could’ve been close to the end of its days, anyway. Alternatively, the thing could’ve been fresh out of the cocoon. Either way, the butterfly didn’t deserve to die.
Did you know that butterfly wings are comprised of tiny colored scales?
I’d like to grab a quotation from Wikipedia here:
Butterflies feed primarily on nectar from flowers. Some also derive nourishment from pollen, tree sap, rotting fruit, dung, decaying flesh, and dissolved minerals in wet sand or dirt.
I’m not going to defend my murder, but what if I killed the sort of butterfly that derives nourishment from “decaying flesh?” That thing could’ve been carrying diseases. I might’ve prevented some kind of viral outbreak at my elementary school.
Okay, Okay. You’re right. That’s a lame excuse. We all know that butterflies never hurt anybody.
I killed it. That’s the truth. I admit it.
I saw it fly by and something inside of my twelve-year-old brain decided to give chase, like a cat catching sight of a red dot, and I pursued it across the field. I was fixated. Homing in. I was so enthralled by the chase that I didn’t know what to do when I caught up to it. Like the cat that doesn’t know what to do with the live mouse in its jaws.
So I stepped on it.
Did you know some butterflies take the toxins from plants to use for themselves? Clever little creatures.
However, any toxin that orange beauty possessed on its fragile wings did no good against the rubber sole of my sneaker. Physically, it felt like nothing, like stepping on a leaf. Emotionally, it felt like I’d just smothered a dozen kittens in a pillow case.
When my foot crunched down and the butterfly vanished from sight, I knew that I’d done an immeasurable wrong. Darkness fell over me like a solar eclipse. An ominous shiver followed, a slight jolt, as if the soul of the butterfly had passed through my body and whispered, “You’ll regret that.”
An alternate universe was born then.
You know the theory of the butterfly effect. Man goes back in time, steps on a butterfly, a small occurrence with enormous consequences on the future, usually for the worse. I’m that man.
Not to say I’m a time traveler. Gosh, I wish.
But who’s to say the effect isn’t the same? A butterfly doesn’t ever deserve to die of anything but old age. I’ve never met a bug more deserving of a healthy, stress-free existence. Butterflies are flying works of art. I love the crap out of butterflies. Always have. So to take one out in the savage manner like I did, you just know that the universe was pissed.
Who knows what would’ve been different if I’d spared that butterfly?
I know no other guilt bigger than this one. Trust me when I say, regardless of your opinion of creating an alternate universe, the cost of killing a butterfly is at least a hundred negative karma points, and that’s a hard debt to crawl out of. I’ve been chipping away at that debt my entire life. I might as well have the truth tattooed to my chest like the guy from Memento: BUTTERFLY KILLER, because I’m never going to outlive that one.
Guest Thought from Cheryl Carvalho
Looking over my shoulder, I saw my Golden Retriever lying on the ground having what appeared to be a seizure. His front legs aimlessly pawed the air as he thrashed his head back and forth. I ditched my bike and ran back to him, thinking he twisted his leg in a gopher hole. When I knelt by his side and saw blood trickle from his nostril and a confused look in his eyes I knew this was going to be goodbye. I petted his golden fur and said, “ I Love you B,” for the last time. A passing jogger stopped to see what went wrong. He’d been watching Baxter trot happily behind my bike one minute, then fall to the ground the next. Indeed, Baxter had been loping along, sniffing everyone’s front yard and I’d scolded him only moments ago to mind his business and catch up. And now he was gone.
Baxter was the neighborhood welcome wagon with a morning routine of visiting friends and milking treats out of them by gazing sweetly into their unsuspecting eyes, casting a trance that said, “Please feed me. My people suck and you’re my only hope.”
Frantically I called for Zach to stay back and run home to get dad. I didn’t want Zach to see Baxter this way. Zach grew up with this dog. I have a million pictures of Zach as a baby, lying on Baxter like a pillow, the dog’s arm around him. Years ago, I was looking for the two of them in the backyard when I saw little human feet and a puppy tail poking out from behind the grapevine along the fence. Moving the leaves aside, I saw my diapered, dirt-covered baby feeding Baxter grapes in their own private fort. In the winter, Baxter chased Zach down the entire sled hill, as if to say, “What is WRONG with you people? Letting my boy careen helplessly down this dangerous hill while you stand around like dopes?” Many nights, Zach would take his pillow and blanket down on the floor to cover Baxter and he’d fall asleep beside the dog.
My husband and the passing jogger hauled Baxter’s horse-sized body into the back of our Toyota and he was gone.
Word got around our street about Baxter’s death. Some houses seemed to know our dog’s name better than our family name. They hugged us, gave cards, and told their own stories. I heard from Mat across the street that his little girl would stand at the window each morning and wait for Baxter to come by. I had no idea.
Growing up, the only dogs I ever encountered were chained outside and lunged as I rode by on my bike, bearing their teeth and snarling menacingly. It scared the piss out of me. Even our own dog was a Charles Manson incarnate. In 3rd grade, my friend’s German Shepherd lunged for my neck. He missed, putting a tooth in my leg instead. I feared dogs all my life until Baxter. I was a bumbling idiot of a dog owner and he tolerated my ignorance in stride and showed me that dogs aren’t to be feared but loved. When I gave that love, I learned how a dog’s behavior mirrors that of his owners. With Baxter around, we felt like pretty good people.
How often do you think about whales? I’ll tell you right now you don’t think about whales enough. Strange, too, considering even the smallest of them is still around 11 feet long. They inhabit every ocean. They number in the millions. The biggest of them, the Blue Whale, floats around at nearly 100 feet long, often traveling alone, an enormous peaceful beast that could swallow humans whole but feeds instead on tiny crustaceans called krill. We take for granted the fact that whales would be a terrifying force if they could fly.
Did you know that Sperm Whales have the largest brain of any animal?
They’re warm-blooded mammals, evolved from land-dwelling creatures of yore, insulated by blubber (one of my favorite words ever) that lets them sink to ocean depths where the sun don’t shine. They’ve got lung access through holes in the top of their heads, so they stay mostly submerged while breathing, first sneezing out the water that filled in the blowhole while they were swimming. How cool is that?
Did you know that Orca Whales are considered apex predators? That means they have no natural predator. At over twenty feet long, you better hope that they never figure out a way to stage a global uprising. Who knows if all those Orcas we’ve got caged up in theme parks aren’t being captured and posted there on purpose to learn our weaknesses.
Did you know that whales never sleep?
Research has shown that their brains have similar structures as those of humans, which means they learn and cooperate and behave quite similarly to us. It’s even suggested that they’re capable of existential thoughts and emotions. I’ve always thought of whales as these secretly wise creatures with all the answers to the universe, sharing the truth of existence in their mournful whale songs that we simply can’t understand.
Whales aren’t the only under-appreciated creatures on the planet, but I think they’re the ones we overlook the most. I’ve never gone whale watching. The closest I’ve come to one is watching Planet Earth. This is a shame. They are such beautiful, majestic, mysterious creatures and we pretend like they’re not even there.
We forget how small we are sometimes, how there are other creatures out there that are, in my opinion, a lot more fascinating than some of the people I meet.
I’m all about reading articles that give me hope for mankind. I like hearing that goodness and compassion still exists, that helpful inventions and progressive actions are being made, and that we’re not the lazy, selfish, cruel creatures that the evening news often paints us to be.
But I like stories like this, too:
On one hand, the article makes note that there are still plenty of lazy, selfish, cruel people among us. Poachers kill for fun and profit, knowing they’re eradicating species from the planet. This is a shame. It’s a sad and terrible truth that some people don’t know how to share.
But the point of the article is not a tirade against poaching. This article focuses instead on the targeted gorillas of said poachers, and the remarkable trap-dismantling behavior they’ve demonstrated lately. The article says such behavior has been observed before, but now the young gorillas are dismantling traps just like their parents, spotting traps that people overlook. The knowledge is being passed down through generations.
This gives me hope for the animal kingdom. It speaks volumes about what they’re capable of, without our help, and it goes to show that we might think we’re the supreme species on the planet, but given enough time, they will outsmart us. We are not as special as we think. Poachers beware: soon the gorillas will not only be tearing down your traps, but they’ll learn how they work, and it will be you caught in a noose one of these days, left to dangle in the forest for all the creatures to see. Humans be warned: the animals are watching us, and they are learning, and if we continue to disrespect them…
We need to stop poachers, yes. We need to be kind to animals, yes. But more than that, we need to get down off our pedestal and recognize the truth that no species can be dominant forever. The sooner we respect our fellow four-legged, winged, and underwater neighbors on this planet, the less likely they’ll turn against us.