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Monkey Business

The Domino Effect

The concert hall was the front yard of the house where I grew up in Indiana. The audience was a giant oak tree that I adored.When I was about 5 years old, I started singing to that tree ñ throwing my arms out from side to side and bellowing out juvenile lyrics describing my innocent passion for the big oak. ìI love you oak tree, yes I do.îI was 5, OK.My callow affair with the big oak led to a lifelong connection to Mother Earth. My mom and dad taught me how to walk lightly in her path: small, thoughtful steps. I needed to do my part so others could enjoy the land as well, they saidFor the most part, I followed their lead ñ except for that one day in seventh grade.It was Nov. 22, 1963 ñ an unusually warm and beautiful fall day; the windows in our classroom were wide open. My friend Joanne and I were bored listening to the nun going on about dangling participles. I decided to entertain Joanne. Who knows what prompted me, but I tossed my empty chocolate milk carton out the window. Joanne started giggling ñ my mission was accomplished.About five minutes later, the principal ñ a serious, stern nun ñ interrupted our classes with an announcement over the loud speaker. ìI have something terrible to tell you,î she said. I suddenly went limp; fear crept through every bone in my body. Anxiously, I looked at Joanne. She was wide-eyed and ashen-faced, close to tears. Weíd been caught, and Sister Mary Dominic was about to tell the entire elementary school that I was a litterbug and a sinner.But that didnít happen. Sister Mary Dominic was not concerned about my school-girl antics. She was announcing that classes would be dismissed for the weekend. President John F. Kennedy was in a hospital in Texas in critical condition ñ shot by a sniper.Itís weird to remember that day, recalling that immediate feeling of relief because I wasnít in trouble. Iím not even sure how long it took to go from relief to disbelief.As we filed outside the school that day, I retrieved my milk carton and somberly carried it the six blocks it took to walk home. There, I found my mom glued to the television.I was only 12 years old, but I remember thinking that maybe if I could get that moment back ñ that self-serving moment of disrespect for my teacher and the schoolyard, everything would be OK again. President Kennedy would be OK.Did I somehow create a chain reaction in the world? I am sure my active imagination and the good ole guilt that goes hand in hand with a Catholic upbringing influenced my karmic-like thoughts at such a young, impressionable age.Of course, I really havenít changed.The concept was not one that I knew about in seventh grade, but I can relate my past and present feelings of how I affect the earth and other humans to the domino effect. The theory behind the domino effect suggests that change, however small, causes a similar change nearby, which then causes another change and so on ñ in linear sequence.My own watered-down theory is fairly unsophisticated. Our choices and our actions ñ positive and negative ñ affect something and someone every minute of our existence.Take my trip to the grocery store last week.Floridaís perfect weather this time of the year brings out the tortoises, emerging from their burrows to soak up the sun. Theyíre a threatened species and the subject of controvery between developers and environmentalists. In general, Floridians watch out for them.As I was driving to the store, I spotted a tortoise right smack in the path of traffic, slowly lumbering across the road. The truck in front of me swerved to the opposite lane; so did I. Believing that an accident was about to happen, I made a U-turn, pulled over and got out of my car. An approaching driver realized what I was doing. He stopped his truck and put on his hazard lights, warning the drivers behind him to slow down. Everything stopped while I moved the tortoise out of harmís way.Domino effect: A small act that may have averted one tortoise death, or a car crash.A positive effect; what about the negative?Last summer, I was walking on the beach, and I heard a woman screaming at her son. ìQuit whining, shut up you little baby, you are a pain in my Ö,î she yelled while yanking his arm. The domino effect: He grows up with no sense of self-respect, and he doesnít know how to respect others.What about the photos on this page? Perhaps if Safeway and Subway cleaned up their trash bins and all the debris backed up against the fence line, their actions would instigate a chain reaction, subconsciouly influencing the person who littered the parking lot. Domino effect.Global warming and the domino effect: Itís a feverish debate among scientists, politicians, environmentalists and everyday people. How much is mankind impacting the earth?Forget the scientific debate. What matters is making small common-sense changes in our lives ñ recycling, using energy-efficient lightbulbs, conserving water ñ to spread value to those nearby; and nearby is far reaching.April 22 is Earth Day, the perfect opportunity to consider how each and every human act is consequential, not only to Mother Earth but to all those around us.Maybe Iíll sing to a tree.-

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