A Butterfly Made of Sugar

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On that chilly January afternoon after school, i walked into the town library, needing to get a couple of books for a school paper I was assigned. I had made it about halfway over to the shelves when I heard a girl’s voice: “Tim!”

I whipped around, surprised to hear myself called. The voice was from a stunningly beautiful girl my own age whom I had known from my prior school. We had our own summer romance a year and a half prior, which she had broken off, and I thought I’d never see her again. And yet here she was.

That was a moment in time that changed a lot of lives. She told me later she wasn’t sure if she should get my attention or not, thinking that perhaps I would be upset with her and just storm off. But in that impulse, that very young woman decided to take a small chance to see what would happen. And, thus, here I am, as are you.

Because without that impulse, there would be no Slope. There would be no ProphetCharts. Or my children. And all the people whose lives were altered by their employment at Prophet would have followed different paths. One can only wonder how many hundreds of lives have been affected in a meaningful way by her momentary impulse (or how many tens of thousands of lives were affected in a small way, such as the fact you are reading this right now).

I am, as I’ve mentioned, working on a screenplay, and it happens to be based on a true story which is almost entirely unknown to the world, in spite of its epic scale.

A critical point in that story takes place when the principal character, who has risen from abject poverty to fabulous riches, is facing ruination for the most banal of reasons: a margin call in his sugar futures account. He can either flee the situation back to the safety of his native land, or he can tough it out and hope that, by some miracle, things work out.

He decided his reputation was worth toughing it out. He elected to be strong and push through the circumstance. And, not long thereafter, his wealth was multiples of what it had been before.

And his own “moment of decision” affected thousands – – perhaps tens of thousands – – of lives in important ways, because the sheer scale of what he was doing dwarfed anything my little company ever did. There was no way he could know it at the time, but what seemed like a nettlesome business decision – – whether to face a margin call or not – – permanently altered the path of a slice of humanity.

Sometimes these moments of truth have a context in which the scale of the decision might actually be felt, such as general during a crucial moment in a war, or a statesman like JFK thinking his way through the Cuban missile crisis. But I suspect most of those key life moments seem trivial at the time (and, ironically, some of the things that feel like major defining moments in our lives turn out, in the end, to be meaningless).

So know that among the next 10,000 actions you take and decisions you make, 9,999 of them really don’t count, but one of them will. The scary part is that you just won’t know which one it is. So good luck.