Cause and Effect

As I stood in church this morning, so did something else. It had six legs and wings.

I was happily bellowing the first hymn when I looked over at a lady in the bench in front to see that as she trilled away, her hymn book was being used as a fly rest stop.

It was just an ordinary house fly, musca domestica, but it was a big one, and it was not acting according to the House Fly Rules: namely: when something moves, unless it’s a riveting food source, you scarper sharpish.

This fly was conducting his short life to the beat of his own drum. Or else, he had been feasting on some of the communion wine.  He perched on the long edge of an undulating page: but despite the wafting leaves of the hymnbook and the swaying of the oblivious parishioner, he wasn’t going anywhere.

He was facing the front, though. A good churchgoing fly.

Meanwhile in the bench behind, I was puzzling furiously. Why  didn’t the lady waft away the fly sitting on her hymn book? Could she see it? Was she a Buddhist in English church goer’s clothing, a closet fly sympathiser? Did she imagine the fly was enjoying We Three Kings of Orient Are?

The book swayed, the fly rode the storm. Maybe, I began to hypothesise wildly, he was a plastic fly: a joke fly, one of those adhesive six-leggers which were periodically placed on things in my kitchen by my son with the express purpose of making me screech, to chortling child applause.

Unable to keep it to myself, I caught Felix’s eye. “What is that fly doing there?” I mouthed to the eight year old.

“What?” he frowned back silently. What was his idiosyncratic mother on about now?

After several exchanges worthy of the London Academy of Mime Artists he finally noticed the fly which stood, bold as brass, appreciating the fourth verse of a hymn suited to the Epiphany.

Felix grinned.  I nudged Maddie, eleven and wise beyond her years. “Look!” I mouthed. “Look at that fly! Is it dead? ”

We waited in great anticipation for the fly to simply keel over and drop off the page. We should have been concentrating on the words, but what can you do? Flapflapflap went the pages of the lady’s hymnbook; and the fly just sat stolidly, fulfilling his Sunday obligation.

After what seemed like an eternity, he opened his wings and took off.

Even a tiny fly can have an effect which vastly outweighs its stature. And it will inspire a small ripple of effects on those around it: whether positive or negative, no-one can predict.

The fly took a course of action: he sat on a human hymnbook, and life dealt him consequences. Satisfactory ones, in this case.

The sermon concerned a Russian character, the lady who is said to have hosted the Magi before they continued on their way to Bethlehem to meet a baby destined to mix it up in Israel.

Most of us know the story of grandmother-figure Babushka.

The three kings stayed on their journey with the excellent Russian housewife and hostess. She gave them food and shelter fit for kings: and they were gracious, inviting her to travel with them to meet the Christ child.

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity: once in anyone’s lifetime, actually. But Babushka couldn’t bring herself to leave the house in a state. She, like our fly, decided on a course of action which would have consequences.

“You go ahead,” she urged them “I’ll just tidy up and I’ll be right along.”

She bustled around and by the time she had finished, the house was spick and  span: it would be a joy to return to, once she had given the Christ child gifts.

She sat down for a second, worn out. Forty winks could do no harm, surely?

She woke hours later. And though she grabbed her bundle of toys and ran all the way to the village, she had missed them. She would never return to that home. The consequence of putting a tidy house first was that she never found the Christ child, and searches to this day, offering her son’s toys to new-born babies as she goes.

For every cause there is an effect. The fly chose a course of action which gave him a well-earned rest; Babushka chose one which sent her endlessly wandering for eternity.

Everything we do has ripples of effects: some good, some not so great.

Lets see what ripples each of us causes today.

The beautiful illustration comes from the advent calendar of a talented illustrator and printmaker Paul Bommer who has his own blog here. Fabulous work.


36 thoughts on “Cause and Effect

  1. Yes, to every action, there is a consequence. From lowly flies to heads of state making their own rules.

    “Let us see what ripples each of us causes today”….what a great way to start off the day. I plan to do better than the fly and hopefully a little good here and there.

    1. No why didn’t I think of that one-liner! Very clever indeed, Penny! Glad you’re smiling: I am left wondering if flies are making themselves evident on the Cutoff right now.

    1. Hi GLD: just been over to find a little critter at yours! Your site makes one want to pull up a chair and sit down.

      It does have the ring of Martha and Mary about it, doesn’t it….lovely message: I’d love to be a Martha but so often I find myself Marying.

    1. Good question, Denise, and one to which I would hesitate to offer an answer. For me, I’d say I’d let my spirit rule both my heart and my head. If that makes any sense. Whoever they were in real life, the Magi of the stories read external signs and interpreted them with something more than just their minds: an internal wisdom, perhaps. A questing spirit.

  2. Winter flies are notoriously slow. I’m not sure what to make of that, since now I’ve written it, it looks like a fortune in a cookie.

    And I had no idea Babushka had such a sad story behind her. Food for thought, that.

    1. It is. Your initial phrase will come in handy if you ever have to meet a contact in Gorky Park. You sidle up to a likely looking fellow reading The Guardian and mutter “Winter flies are notoriously slow.” It’s bound to open up a whole new world of espionage.

  3. Hopefully my ripples have been positive today. I found a rather large fly under the teapot today. I was horrified. Big, black and squashed.

    Fortunately my specs were nearby. It was a raisin 🙂

  4. Your use of musca domestica made me think of this:

    The Cottage Hospital
    John Betjeman

    At the end of a long-walled garden in a red provincial town,
    A brick path led to a mulberry- scanty grass at its feet.
    I lay under blackening branches where the mulberry leaves hung down
    Sheltering ruby fruit globes from a Sunday-tea-time heat.
    Apple and plum espaliers basked upon bricks of brown;
    The air was swimming with insects, and children played in the street.

    Out of this bright intentness into the mulberry shade
    Musca domestica (housefly) swung from the August light
    Slap into slithery rigging by the waiting spider made
    Which spun the lithe elastic till the fly was shrouded tight.
    Down came the hairy talons and horrible poison blade
    And none of the garden noticed that fizzing, hopeless fight.

    Say in what Cottage Hospital whose pale green walls resound
    With the tap upon polished parquet of inflexible nurses’ feet
    Shall I myself by lying when they range the screens around?
    And say shall I groan in dying, as I twist the sweaty sheet?
    Or gasp for breath uncrying, as I feel my senses drown’d
    While the air is swimming with insects and children play in the street?

    I’m not a big fan of Betjeman, but I rahter like this one.

    (Houseflies are rather dopey at this time of year. We have problem with them nestling into the upstairs window frames.
    Maybe this one was enjoy the sweet words?)

  5. My Mother would have pinched us on the arm hard if we talked (or mimed) in church like that.. how grand to notice and appreciate that little fly having a wee ride! great writing.. c

  6. Thank you for introducing me to the story of Babushka. I have nothing in common with her; I’d have run out and hopped onto that camel without delay. But you prompt me to wonder what other things I’ve missed over the years because I thought conditions had to be “perfect”–by my definition.

    (I thought at first you were heading toward a crowlin’ ferlie, which is quite another topic.)

  7. You’re a fun church-parent, Kate. I like the intent of this story. It pays to stay alert…I like a clean house, but I never want to put the effort ahead of being hospitable. Thanks for starting the ripples from your end. Debra

  8. Always a good practice (and one I know I tend to overlook) to see oneself as the cause of outward reaching ripples, and not only the recipient of others’ ripples. Makes one less likely to thrash about and cause distress.

  9. How funny, that church scene, Kate – it’s at times like that that one often has an uncontrollable urge to laugh 🙂

    There’s always one (fly) – well, that’s the way it is down here in the Antipodes – outsized bugs abound. On Christmas eve we had lunch outdoors at a lovely tapas restaurant and watched in horrified fascination as an enormous European wasp killed an equally large spider and then flew around madly in giddy triumph – oooer

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