Friday, 2 September 2011

Surprise and Predictability

I was already reflecting on the nature of ‘surprise’ yesterday as I drove around running errands. Crossing the international border bridge and glancing over at Dover Hill Park on the banks of the St Croix, I remembered my husband’s tale this week of sharing lunch with a friend on the pizza restaurant deck overlooking the river, and being unexpectedly and hauntingly serenaded by a bagpipe player practising in the park across the river. That is the kind of un-engineered moment that comes to you as a gift and that you wouldn’t even think of planning! Perhaps most of the surprises in our lives are a little less unusual than this, and perhaps that’s why we often don’t even notice them. The stuff of our lives is created by the interlacing of predictable events, settings and people with those unanticipated strands brought into our days either by others or simply by Life itself. But we are so used to being cradled by the fabric made from predictability’s warp and serendipity’s weft that I think we often see it as all of a piece, and don’t fully notice the surprises or respond with the kind of wonder and gratitude that they deserve. It takes a kind of openness of heart, eyes and mind to ‘see’ and receive these gifts, and that openness sometimes gets lost in life’s stresses and strains.

So as I crossed the bridge yesterday I set myself to remembering recent surprises, some small but mysterious – like the glimpse of a fox sloping through the shadows as a friend and I stood and talked on the pier late one night – and others larger and more tragic: though I had visited the hospital to say goodbye the previous day, calling an elderly friend’s room yesterday morning to be greeted by a strange voice who didn’t know who she was told me that her life had finally slipped away during the night. Somehow, recalling these surprises big and small, is one of the actions that can help lift the veil of blindness from before our eyes and open our hearts to the wonder that always surrounds us. Once across the bridge, I went to pick up my parcel of books and ripped it apart to get at my Granny’s autobiography, which I had finally ordered (Through Mine Own Eyes: The Autobiography of a Natural Mystic, by Katharine Trevelyan, 1962), only to find that two of the reviews on the back cover were by C.S. Lewis and the Rev. J. B. Philips – now that was a surprise! A big enough surprise to push my reflections to the very forefront of my mind...

This morning early, then, as I crept out of the house to go the gym, found the car was blocked in (surprise!) and set out for a walk instead, I felt wide open to serendipity, a concept which my friend reflected on so beautifully here. I noticed that this sort of wide-openness makes me aware of even the smallest, unexpected things, turning them into cherished and heart-expanding gifts. The mist rising like smoke from the river and caught like a pink haze between the two strips of forest at Dover Hill. The sudden sweep of golden light as I stepped out of the woods onto the grass, the morning sun positioned for that one moment in time directly downriver so that the park’s pergola cast long shadows through the trees and up the hill. The screech of a bald eagle in the forest canopy above me (or it could have been a seagull, I suppose, but the sound did come from the tree I know the eagles live in!). Suddenly catching sight across the river of the sunroom where my old friend used to sit and watch the world, and realising she would never be there again. A glimpse into community camaraderie as the Friday farmers’ market set up their tables and awnings (and wood-fired pizza ovens!) beside the river in the chill morning air. Rounding the bend to see friends with which to exchange a friendly greeting jogging towards me. Passing the slim silver birches that I love and suddenly loving them so much that I wanted to be a tree-hugger and so slung my arms around them gratefully while looking down the translucent estuary. Walking home and seeing with new eyes the orange rosehips that I know will be deep red by the time we pick them for our Advent wreath, and the goldenrod blazing for a moment like torches (how can we dismiss them as a weed?!).

With a full heart, I took my breakfast out to the hammock at the bottom of the garden and was joined by the cat. We swung together for a while, silently watching the trees, the lawn, the house with its new trim and shutter colours slowly emerging and all the decorating paraphernalia spread about it... and then both of our sets of ears pricked up as a black cat slid out of the woods, sniffed the cans of paint, and proceeded to nimbly climb up the tall ladder against the house and explore the roof! I laughed out loud. And again when the cat hesitated to climb back down, started off uncertainly, but then fell over itself doing so when surprised by a painter! Off my own dear cat padded to confront this intruder, and off I went back up the garden to begin my day of warp and weft, mystery and predictability.


  1. You write so lyrically, Rach. I found myself smiling and meandering with you through the predictable and the unexpected of your day and your thoughts. I wonder how many mysterious moments we miss as we walk a route of sameness...? Thanks for reminding me to keep eyes and heart wide open today!

  2. wonderful words, wishing i had a moment to let my soul catch up to me today, this helped, even in a stolen moment of a very busy day. thank you.

  3. Heidi and Joanna, I really appreciate knowing that what I wrote and shared served as reminder and inspiration, however small, in your rich and full lives...