Updated: Oct 14
Stephen Gould and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teach me a few things
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — with help from my parents — teach me about chaos
When I was a young girl, I was fascinated by a television program called The Man from U.N.C.L.E. One character, in particular, held my girlish attention. He was extremely good-looking and intelligent, a blond with a Russian accent and the exotic name of Illya Kuryakin. (David McCallum is that young man who captured my heart in 1965, now best known as Duckie in NCIS.)
It was during one of those saga-saturated evenings filled with spies and international intrigue that I first heard the word, “chaos.” When queried, my parents said that chaos meant confusion, an uproar caused by some unexpected event. Later, I heard the term again in the show, Get Smart, but I didn’t know that the organization represented there was KAOS. In my head, it was always “chaos.”
Those spy shows made me think that chaos was a group of evil-doers lurking around the parameters of my life waiting to attack whenever I let my guard down.
Chaos is a force of nature all its own
Now, more than a half-century later, I understand that chaos is not connected to people or groups at all. It’s a force of nature all its own.
Chaos often intrudes upon you in small ways:
when one vivid red sock gets mixed in with the white laundry and everything comes out tie-dyed pink.
When the ice-maker inexplicably springs a leak and you awake one morning to a floor full of frigid water.
When the cat appears at the door and you unwittingly let him in only to find that he has a live rabbit in his mouth.
Then there are the times when chaos explodes into your life on a bigger scale.
When you know the victims of a tragic car crash. When a parent has a stroke. When you lose your job to a shutdown and you have no savings. When the world is forever changed by an invisible, deadly virus.
I remember being touched by the tragic meaning of the word chaos when I reread Shakespeare’s Othello several years ago. Othello, the Moor, swears to his devoted wife, Desdemona,
“But I do love thee! And when I love thee not, Chaos is come again!”
How noble that sounds — until it becomes clear that “chaos” does come again for Othello, and with it comes death and destruction.
Stephen Gould and the Chaos Theory
The term chaos came up again when reading through one of my book journals where I had noted a discussion that occurred in a group at the college where I taught, a group created specifically to bring the Science and Liberal Arts divisions together. We were looking at essays from Stephen Gould’s book, Dinosaur in a Haystack. That was when I learned that chaos isn’t just a term. It’s a whole theory, and the gist of it is that life will always be chaotic. Gould asserted,
the “chaos theory concerns everyday life. It won’t go as planned. It is inherently unpredictable.”
Believe it or not, in today’s pandemic-afflicted world, that made me feel BETTER. Gould, a world-renowned scientist postulated that we will be somewhat soothed — that our minds will be more at rest — if we think of chaos as the one unexpected happening outside normal events. We’ll feel better if we think that what is happening is only a temporary aberration in the course of life.
If we accept the chaos theory, we know that
“Sudden, radical, irrational change is built into the very fabric of existence. Chaos theory proves that unpredictability is built into our daily lives. It is as mundane as the rainstorm we cannot predict.”
Finding comfort in chaos
Strange how my idea of an evil kind of chaos is now converted into a comforting stupor. It helps me to know that no matter how many lists I make, no matter how clearly I color-code my files, no matter how much I outline and organize, not everything will go as planned.
For some odd reason, there’s relief in knowing that certain things are beyond my control and I just have to deal with them.
My newly evolved definition of chaos has come a long way from that fuzzy idea of evil I got from long-ago spy shows and my girl-crush on Illya Kuryakin.
Now I see chaos as one of life’s constants. Chaos is a reminder that the biggest challenge of living is to expect the unexpected and then face whatever happens with strength, grace, and humor.
Chaos is inevitable. If I know that, I’ll be prepared to conquer it when it comes.
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