Yesterday morning, I was trying to fit in a quick dog walk before church. Aggi was well aware of my haste, resisting every turn back house-ward—looking longingly in the directions we would not go that morning. Hurrying, leash tugging, somewhat distracted by the yet unformed content of a sermon’s conclusion, I abruptly encountered a neighbor walking her two dogs, big happy mutts, one tossed with poodle markings and the other splashed with golden. Aggi loves these guys, so, for the moment, any attempt towards home would have to wait.
My neighbor commented on the lovely weather, cool and clear, perfect for dog walks. It’s difficult to enjoy these great September days without feeling a little guilty for the poor people of Texas, the poor people of Florida; she mentioned it first, and I agreed. She then provided her theory, “I don’t share this with my kids, they think I’m nuts; but don’t you think the nuclear tests by that whack-job in Korea have something to do with the weather? I think if you set off all that heat in an underground explosion, it has to have some impact on the atmosphere.” I assured her I didn’t think her attempt at making connections between nuclear explosions and weather-related disturbances was a reason to think she was nuts; I thought to myself that there were so many other reasons.
As Aggi finally resigned to our alley and back gate, I thought about others who were connecting cosmic and atmospheric dots. Hurricanes exploding on the heels of our departure from the Paris Climate agreement, somewhat close to the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage; winds blighting communities during an increase in racist rhetoric, hitting neighborhoods not known for their immigrant inclusiveness—what with DACA now hanging in the balance. Explanations swirling with varying degrees of ferocity. Why not hydrogen explosions? I liked the fact she wasn’t looping God into the devastation. Her connections were an earnest attempt at speculative science.
Our brains are wired to seek cause from effect. The bigger the bang, the more intentional the detonation. We abhor chance, randomness, the capricious cause. Unfortunately, our attempts to discern outcomes are limited by our observational experience. If something is bad, it must have arisen from something or someone with mal-intent. The more limited our bucket of causes, the more likely our conclusions will be insufficient. Meteorologists will speak of barometric pressure, moisture content, prevailing African easterly jet stream; politicians will point to lax zoning regulations and preparedness; first responders will talk of evacuation orders and shelter capacity. And, strangely enough, insurance adjusters will tick-mark next to “Act of God.”
Perhaps, rather than give in to our insatiable need for explanations, we should more productively seek to respond. Dog-walk ended, my neighbor needed help getting her garbage into her can. “Come on, Aggi, I’ve got to get to church.”
Looking less for causes and more for reasons to help, I remain with love,
Jonathan B. Krogh