On Surprises…


I am reading The Book of Awakening, Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, by Mark Nepo. (This is a wonderful, non-denominational daily devotional). The devotional for April 21 is The Gift of Surprise.

One of the things I know about myself is that I love surprises, I just want to know about them first.

In all honesty, I am a bit of a control freak. I say that because it is kinder than saying I am a total control freak.” 

When I am surprised by something, regardless of whether the surprise is a nice one, it makes me feel uncomfortable and a little panicky.  I do not like the feeling of being off guard or unprepared. I like to plan my responses well before there is even anything to respond to. It is all about controlling my environment, so the rug is never pulled out from under me. I have plenty of experience with rugs being pulled and I do not like it.

In the The Book of Awakening, Nepo quotes Brother David Steindi-Rast when he says, “Another name for God is surprise.”  Ironically, that caught me by surprise. I never figured God as being in the surprise business. But, when I pause to consider it, I believe God must love laying little surprises in our paths.

Because I have had many negative surprises (betrayal by childhood friends; finding an unfamiliar black lace thong in the unmade bed; the large mass on the chest x-ray; the heart failure diagnosis), I tend to view surprises with a suspicious eye. I spent most of my life being hyper-vigilant, bracing for impact for the next unwelcome surprise. Exhausting.

However, if I really take a life inventory, most of my blessings started as surprises:

  • I certainly didn’t expect to have a baby at age 19 and was completely surprised at how much I loved the little girl who lived in my body for 9 months.
  • Two years later, being on birth control, I was surprised by a son who took immediate residence in my heart that, to my surprise, still had space to love a second child as much as the first.
  • I was surprised by an instant message from a guy I met briefly at a party 8 years ago. I was surprised also by his persistence in a date. I was surprised further still that he did not turn out to be something other than what he was – an abnormally normal guy.
  • I was surprised that jumping out of a “perfectly good airplane,” was even more incredible than I imagined.
  • I was surprised at how much I loved scuba diving from the first underwater breath; how it was like being on another planet.

I have been surprised over and over at my resiliency in surviving some pretty awful surprises, such as cancer (and the treatment required to save my life) twice in four years, drownings, heart failure, relationships gone bad, and the unimaginable heartbreak of losing my beloved mother.  All that, and I’m still here. I had no control over those things, but I’m still here.  Surprise!!!

Speaking of surprises, it is April 2020, and we are in the middle of a pandemic. Covid-19 was a surprise to everyone. There are, of course, conspiracy theorists who believe the Chinese engineered it as a Simon Bar Sinister[1] type plan to rule the world, but we will leave them to that. I am not alone among rational people in my shock at how quickly we moved from being able to move about freely to being strongly urged to stay in our homes, wear masks and gloves when we leave the house and stay 6 feet away from each other.  My biggest surprise is how people are making it work. There are science fiction novels depicting an unimaginable world in the future where the citizens wear protective gear and helmets, and now that world seems completely within the realm of possibility. Some of us are coping with this surprise by checking out completely, trying out alternative back-to-basics lifestyles, planting gardens, hiking, learning to cook from scratch, rediscovering literature or religion and completely embracing this new existence as if we have been waiting our whole lives for the chance. While others are relying almost 100% on media updates, watching and waiting for updates and news, reading Facebook memes on cures involving warm apple cider vinegar, and praying for a return to normal.  Most of us are a combination of the two, responsibly checking in for news, working because we still need to eat and pay bills, while also finding new and interesting ways to occupy our down time and manage stress and gaining new technical skills to stay connected.

I am surprised by the generosity of the many, and the greediness of the few. I am surprised by how we have shown up for each other in so many ways. I was surprised by the invitation of a “Zoom Tea Party” from my friend David and his husband Mike. I was surprised by an impromptu group call with lovely women I had not seen in a long time. Had we preplanned such a thing, I am certain that one or more of us would have made an excuse of something more pressing. The surprise was the reason it was successful.

I am surprised that after a month of “shelter at home” with the aforementioned party guy (who injured himself on Day 1 and is currently unable to walk) that I am not yearning for the day when we are given the all clear. Surprisingly, I am perfectly content at this moment in time. I am surprised that I still look forward to seeing his face every morning, kissing him on top of the head and letting him brag about how he won again in the “who got up earlier” competition (which is purely a one-sided race). After 8 years, he is still the person I would pick to to be quarantined with.  I am surprised that, even though he hurts and is bored for lack of things he can do, he has not gotten short with me even once.

I am surprised by how fresh the air smells and feels when I take my morning walks. I am surprised that I can know a person is smiling even while they are wearing a mask – a true smile is in the eyes.

While I still am a bit of a control freak, I stand behind my original statement. I love surprises, I just prefer them in hindsight.  However lately, I find the surprise surprises are growing on me.  What a surprise!

[1] Villain in the Underdog Cartoon 1965-1973

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