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Surprising Myself


I am a very easily startled human. I can be in the house with one other person for the entire day and practically jump out of my skin if they enter the room I’m in. No doubt I’m lost in my own thoughts, but it’s always surprising to me that I don’t see or hear someone coming. When I’ve caught my breath, and often harrumphed around a little about how much I hate to be startled, I immediately try to figure out how to avoid a similar shock in the future. As if I actually could.

I’m not sure of the cosmic purpose behind being surprised or startled, but keeping us on our toes has to be part of it. And often, I need that. The older I get, the more complacent I become. Part of me leans toward the easiest, most predictable option almost every time I’m faced with a decision. I like to know what’s going to happen, and I have been known to spend longer trying to anticipate possible glitches than it would ever take just to experience them and move on. On some level, I’m simply not a big fan of surprises. And yet, some of the most delicious moments in my life have been encounters, events, and conversations that emerged seemingly out of the blue.

I love the fact that I am capable of surprising myself. It makes me know that my road is not short and predictable.

This is not to say, of course, that I haven’t also gotten some very bad news in this same way. But whether it’s positive or negative, it’s real life unfolding and evolving before us, around us, and sometimes in spite of us. By nature, we are primitive souls. We fear being hurt, being alone, being rejected, and even doing things a different way. When I read self-help advice that urges me to “do something new every day,” I’m often torn between rolling my eyes and screaming. Still, part of me wants to be a person who greets each day with an open heart and an approachable spirit.

It turns out, though, that it’s not that easy to wake up each day eager for whatever comes my way. Even if I remind myself to stay in the moment, to notice the way the light turns and the air touches my skin, my mind starts almost instantly to plan out my day. I think about what might go wrong, what I should be prepared for, what might astonish me. In other words, I’m doing everything I can to prevent any kind of surprise. But that is really no way to be living. In fact it’s actually planning, not living.

Just recently, I have found myself involved in a project I didn’t plan for. It started out spontaneously, a quick conversation, an opportunity to travel a new path for a bit. Before I knew it, I realized I was engaged, more interested than I’ve been in anything for a long time. Totally unexpectedly, I have learned some new things about myself, meandered on a road I hadn’t planned to travel, and have have found immense pleasure. This has surprised me very much, but it has also given me a kind of hope.

And this is what that hope is about: I love the fact that I am capable of surprising myself. It makes me know that my road is not short and predictable, as I sometimes fear. I feel confident that I don’t already know exactly which direction I’m headed. I am realizing that every turn and every opening of a door can move me to another, behind which is another lovely surprise.

Often my concept of myself is an old one. I frequently still see myself as the somewhat shy, not overly confident woman I was when I was first headed out into the world. I forget how much I’ve grown, how many things I’ve done, how strong I really am. Nothing about this makes me relish the idea of someone coming into a room and startling me, but it does make me know that I’ll not only survive those surprises but probably flourish in the face of them.

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