Inflection Points

This morning at breakfast, I was thinking about inflection points: points in my life where single events ended up having very big impacts on my life. Where things could have (or did) changed drastically based on a decision or chance meeting. A couple of examples will help show the principle.

The summer before I entered Eighth Grade, my family moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. It wasn’t a planned move. My mom and stepfather dropped me and my siblings off at the airport to go be with my father in Utah for a month, as we did each summer. After dropping us off in Newark, they went for a drive, with no place in particular in mind. They just wanted to go someplace interesting. They ended up in Bucks County, about an hour and a half away from Newark. They drove by a road with an “open house” sign on it. Wanting a break, they decided to get out and look at the house. They liked the house so much, they put in a low ball offer on it. An offer that was accepted right off.

When I came back from Utah, it was to a new house in a new state. Everything that happened to me since then has been different than what would have happened to me if they hadn’t seen that house and made that offer. I have no idea what that alternate reality would be like. Would I have ended up hooking back into this course of events after a while? I’d always wanted to go to BYU, so it’s possible I would have ended up in the same dorm room, but even if that had happened, would I have been the same person, having had a whole different set of friends and experiences leading up to that?

Who knows.

Another inflection point: there was a time about 14 years ago where it looked quite likely that Denisa and I would be moving to Slovakia to oversee the renovation of a castle. Uhrovec Kaštiel, to be specific. It was going to be renovated into a business center and library over the course of several years. (Denisa and I actually looked at about 15 castles that trip, evaluating them for suitability and cost. One of them (that I know of) has since been restored:

This is what Oponice Kaštiel looked like back when we were on our expedition
And this is pretty much the same shot now.

I have no idea what would have waited for us down that path. It never materialized, mainly because the bottom fell out of the economy a few years later, and that was that. But talk about an inflection point.

Sometimes, however, I think there are things that look like inflection points, but really are just the culmination of a series of events. They’re more the straw that broke the camel’s back than a real moment of pivotal change (or lack of change). To use a scriptural example, people might try to point to David deciding to sleep with Bathsheba as an inflection point, but I’d argue that was the culmination of a series of events that preceded it. It wasn’t as if David went from a solid-as-a-rock follower of God straight to adulterer and murderer. There were a series of steps in between, and if he hadn’t seen Bathsheba bathing naked one evening, it was likely he would have seen or done something else that caused his downfall, because his life was then at a point where a downfall was quite likely.

It makes me think of back pain, actually. When you “throw your back out,” it’s easy to point to the thing you were doing when it all went wrong. I remember I was reaching into the backseat of my car to get something once, and my back suddenly hurt worse than ever. It took a week for me to feel mostly better. But when I talked to a physical therapist about it, he said it wasn’t due to reaching into the back seat. It was due to me overusing the back muscles before then. The final action was just the last straw, not the ultimate cause. If it hadn’t happened reaching into the back seat, it would have happened soon after with another random “cause.”

Though I suppose things like that could still be inflection points, if only for the various possibilities suddenly narrowing down to one particular instance in that moment. For David, his downfall went from “could be any number of things” to “Bathsheba” when he saw her from his rooftop. Maybe we could call that the Schrodinger’s Cat inflection point variety . . .

Anyway, that’s my deep thought for the day. Do any of you have any examples of this in your life that you’ve seen? I find events like this fascinating. Please share.

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