When Your Children Climb Volcanoes

Volcanoes are not a part of my world. They do not fit with bike rides, I-25 traffic, weeds in my lawn, or Safeway. They do not fit between the pages of the book I’m reading. Volcanoes and I coexist in a world of mutual ignorance. Can we each continue to pursue our realities—me with my quiet, hidden rhythms, and volcanoes, wherever they are, with their hungry, grumbly restlessness—without impinging on one another?

Science, mathematics, history, and realism all tell me that no, volcanoes and I must seek some reciprocal respect and awareness.

The study of mathematics offers us the combustible creativity of chaos theory, the simple (?) suggestion that one small change in one distant place can actually recreate the reality in a completely non-connected time and place. It’s called the butterfly effect because of one mathematician’s example of a far away butterfly that flitted and fluttered and thus caused a hurricane somewhere else in the world.

This morning I picked up a copy of Ray Bradbury’s complete short stories, one of which is “A Sound of Thunder.” In it, two time travelers change the course of reality because in their venture into the past, one of them quite unmindfully steps on a butterfly.

Mount St. Helens erupted the year of my mother’s death. While the rest of the world recognized and sought to recover from the creative destruction of the earth’s great groan, for me and my family it was nothing less than a terrestrial expression of our grief and loss.

This week, my son climbed a volcano at night to creep near its crumbly edges and peer into its smoky, sulfuric depths. Happily, I report his return to a safe distance. It’s not hard in my own misty imaginative depths to connect his experience with mine of slinging a child into an unpredictable world where there are no assurances of the stability of those brittle ledges where they land.

How fantastic that I would link Mount St. Helens with my own sadness, and Riley’s climb of Volcán Telica with my placid parenting. And yet, still, there is that butterfly.

About K. Mulhern

Kathleen Mulhern teaches courses in world history, European history, and history of Christianity. She has taught at Denver Seminary, Colorado School of Mines, and Regis University. She particularly focuses on the historical roots of the political, economic, religious, and cultural systems that have contributed to contemporary society.


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