Sometime ago, a number of years in fact, a friend mentioned that certain events happening to her were totally unexpected. Some were trivial, others much bigger but all seemed to come completely out of the blue. She described one unexpected happening when one windy morning she was waiting at a bus stop, a sudden gust of wind blew grit into her eye, turning her back to the wind, away from the bus top, she rubbed her eye to try to remove it, when she turned around again she saw to her amazement a car burst into flames, the driver leaping out, fortunately unhurt. Wow! she thought that was unexpected!
Unexpected certainly and perhaps a rather extreme example. I remember that day we talked about things common to us both. We both said that time and again as soon as we thought, this will happen, or that will be ok, or more confidently nothing can go wrong now, some fateful being looked upon us saying ‘Don’t be so complacent you silly mortals, nothing is guaranteed prepare for the unexpected.’
We agreed that in future we would definitely watch out when we were sure everything would go to plan and prepare for the fact it might not. My friend said, ‘This must be the time of the unexpected we are going through, I wonder how long it will last?’ I know for a fact it hasn’t yet ended, so watch out for plans to go wrong, hopes to be dashed and uncertainty prevailing. Watch out too for the unexpected kindness, the glorious sunset seen from the office window when the day has been a nasty one, the exam that was passed despite expected failure and all the myriad of things unexpected that make life just that little bit better.
Perhaps we should expect nothing, and then whatever happens will be either a good or a bad surprise but of course in the society we live in that isn’t possible. We have to plan, even our journey to work is part of a plan, we have to plan our family life, what food we put on the table, how will we pay our bills but part of us must always be open to the unplanned, even sadly disasters, both personal and on a larger scale. How we deal with the unexpected is part of our humanity.
Of course it’s so easy to be glib about things when they don’t happen to us, and easy to dismiss from our minds the nasty unexpected things that happen to others. We might think, I’m glad that wasn’t me but we can’t begin to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. Lots of platitudes coming from my mind to my fingers here and being typed out!
But there are times when the unexpected, the terrible unexpected can make things better. I know someone; I like to think of her as a friend because she is – although she started by being a neighbour, a fabulous one I have to say – but she had a terrible trauma, one which left her depressed, unable to venture out on her own, liable to panic attacks, and struggling to deal with the aftermath of a serious incident. She had, prior to that, been searching for a change of direction but as with most of us it seemed impossible, there seemed no choice except to continue along the road she was on. Along came the unexpected, the totally overwhelming, terrifying unexpected and she was knocked back, all thought of change of direction subsumed in just getting through each day.
She was offered a chance, some help to find her way back. She found that in taking that chance it didn’t lead to where she had been before, but to somewhere better. Metaphorically speaking she in turn held out her hand to help others. Literally speaking she got stuck in doing things with people who needed help even more than she did. She did it all as a volunteer at the start, then she was identified as being someone who had a vocation, someone whose career path should be in that direction. The trauma she had been through had meant she’d lost her job, was unemployed with all the problems that brings, but if it hadn’t been for the trauma – the unexpected – her true talent would never have been known and she would have continued along the path of a job with not a great deal of satisfaction.
She is a remarkable woman, she always was, but outside of her immediate family and friends no one else knew; now the people she works with and helps know her well and appreciate her but without the unexpected that happened to her, their lives would not be as enriched as they are now and neither would hers.
Is it fate? Is it part of our individual lives’ pattern, or do we have free will to decide what path we take, and by doing so to avoid the unexpected. Who knows? Philosophers may have many faceted arguments and even more questions, religious leaders may point to God. But the unexpected happens; perhaps that is part of a greater plan but how we react to it, deal with it, is down to our own free will.
Jessica, the character in Trio describes her belief about fateful patterns. In part of the story she says something along the lines of; ‘If you have a letter to post and it must be posted, you can choose what letter box to post it from and when to post it but if it’s important it must be done.’
I think much of our life’s choices are like that, there are certain things that happen, that cross our path that can’t be avoided but how we deal with them is definitely up to us.