My morning newspaper quoted Officer Vinson of the Baltimore police saying about the escape of eight animals from a local farm, “Drivers traveling at high speeds just are not expecting to see bison in the middle of the road.” and no, as a rule, I am not prepared to see Bison on the highway as part of my morning’s commute. Drivers on cell phones, yes. Construction delays, tailgating, a slow car in the fast lane, yes, yes, yes. Bison, no.
But what if I left home expecting bison? Or flamingos? Or clowns? How would my life be different if I didn’t always know what I was going to see, hear, smell, taste? What if I expected surprise? Sought out serendipity? What if I followed Rumi’s advice to “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”?
I used to live a very careful life. I thought of everything, almost. I had an umbrella when it rained, sunscreen when it blazed, and snow shovel and boots for any blizzard. I knew how to take care of myself. I lived a good life. There was balance. It was all very measured. And narrow.
One spring morning, taking advantage of the country location of the conference center where I was giving a workshop, I walked out early. I crested a hill with the sun rising and dew sparkling and followed a lane between two rows of trees, tender in leafy green. Goldfinches and bluebirds flew back and forth between the trees, crisscrossing in front of me in a charming ballet. It was so Walt Disney I started singing, “Zippa-dee-do-dah, Zippa-dee-day. My, oh my, what a wonderful day.” Bluebirds! I hadn’t seen bluebirds since I was a child visiting my grandmother in the country.
In that moment, I realized, “You can’t plan for bluebirds.” That was the beginning of me letting go of planning everything, the moment that I started to let the unexpected into my life. The challenge in continuing to do so is that there are as likely to be bison on the highway as there are to be bluebirds in the trees. Surprises are not always benign, but they are almost always interesting.
When the earliest ships arrived here from Europe, the people had no experience of large ships with sails; they did not exist, so they were literally unable to see them. Their chief, who was used to noticing and interpreting changes in the surface of the water, saw the new pattern and deciphered the presence of the ships. He explained them to the people and then, and only then, could they see the approaching ships.
I want to see beyond what I have always seen. I want to marvel at the emerging ship with billowing sails. I will risk that not everything it brings is benign. I rely on my certainty, it has served me well, but I now cherish my bewilderment, and with it, the possibility of bluebirds…. and bison.
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