Thursday, December 20, 2007


OK, so there's not really a surprise here, but doesn't hearing that word make your heart skip a beat, make you a little more alert and inquisitive?

As many of us get ready to tear into wrapping paper, I thought I would write a little ode to surprise. After all, isn't most of the fun of gift-getting not knowing what will be revealed after the paper comes off? And if we got truly everything we asked for, with no surprise, wouldn't that take away a lot of the fun?

Kids love surprise. They recognize that there is thrill in the unknown. Along the way, some of us lose our tolerance for surprise. We think we want things under our control, since surprise can also bring us negative things. Isn't cancer as much of a surprise as opening a package to reveal the Compact Oxford English Dictionary you had no idea your husband knew you lusted after? (Um, that's obviously mine. Feel free to insert your own coveted object.)

As exciting as surprise can be, it can also be scary. The trouble is, when we remove surprise, or engineer our lives to minimize it, we lose something important. We lose the events that challenge us, that teach us, that bring us joy and suffering. We lose an awful lot of living.

And so when a friend of mine told me she didn't like her sprawling, suburbanized city because it lacked surprise, I knew instantly what she meant. A day of rote living--get up, shower, dress, breakfast, drive to work, sit there for 8 hours, drive back, dinner, sleep--is a zombie-like existence. Not to say that every day will be surprising, but you have to believe that there is the possibility of surprise in your life, that there's space and opportunity for it to happen.

Take a look at your life. See what is squeezing out the chance for surprise. It could be a job, or a way of thinking, or a behavior that's become habit. Find a way to allow the possibility for surprise back into your life.

The root of the word, incidentally, means 'to capture.' Think of the moment a child opens up a gift and is surprised. Think of the moment someone says something to you that you didn't expect. You are arrested, captured, captivated. You are, for a moment, suspended from what you were doing, and given the chance to feel something, or take stock, or change your perspective.

Those moments of captivity are precious, and fleeting, and enormously instructive. Embrace surprise, or, maybe more accurately, allow surprise to embrace you.

Because of the holiday, I'm taking a brief break from posting, but I'll be back after Christmas. May you have many happy surprises in the meantime!

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