The Butterfly Effect in East Rochester

There we both stood, eyeing electrical equipment at the Fairport Wegmans. I was looking for a non-ground converter for an extension cord. My neighbor was kind enough to let us siphon their electric while we waited for power to be restored. She was puzzling over the battery-operated lanterns on the small shelf of assorted items.

“You’re in East Rochester, too, then?” I asked, feeling the need to help the woman who seemed to be asking herself questions aloud in lieu of asking me.

“Yes, isn’t it terrible? We have power, but my old neighbor is the one who couldn’t breathe,” she informed me, as though this was common knowledge. This is, after all, East Rochester.

“Wait. Couldn’t breath?”

Car crushed under the weight of a tree that completely covered Main St.

In the aftermath of the accident on Main Street in ER that claimed the life of one man and sent another to Strong, the resulting lack of power left one elderly woman on Main without the necessary power to run her oxygen pump.

The result was a second crisis in which the Fire Department was able to find a cobbled-together solution for the oxygen, but the woman was left without lights. Hence her life-long neighbor found herself chatting with a random stranger over lanterns and power adapters.

It was yet another unforeseeable consequence of a completely random incident that most of the Rochester area will know very little of.

After a spring marked by several reasonably powerful storm systems and a recent bout of high winds, one of the very large and stately trees that line the quiet Main Street of East Rochester suddenly gave way. Without warning, the entire tree crashed to the ground, crossing Main as it did so. Two unfortunate men drove the car that would find itself in its path.

At our house some distance from the accident, the whole thing registered as a sudden flicker of all our house appliances and lights and a gentle thump beneath my feet. How strange it is to realize that thump I felt – one gentle enough that I thought it might have been the fan on our boiler heat turning on and off with the power fluctuation – was the end of another man’s life.

Stranger still to think that, had these two men talked to a friend for fifteen seconds more or fifteen seconds less; had they chosen Lincoln Ave or Garfield instead of Main Street; had any other of a near infinite number of butterfly wings beat their randomizing effect on this day instead of the ones that did, both of these men would be in one piece.

Perhaps appropriately enough in this case, the term “The Butterfly Effect” comes to us from the world of meteorology. It refers to the many ephemeral causes from which weather gets its many unpredictable effects. But that concept extends well beyond the realm of meteorology, especially in a tiny little community like East Rochester.

Throughout the day, facts were confused, conversations were misdirected and stories got lost. But in a universe still exploding from its Big Bang birth on a rock that couldn’t sustain life without its still-cooling center, it was the randomness of that moment that stuck with me when I woke up this morning.