The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street. Robert Doisneau
In the drab days of muddy May, too early to plant flowers in the pot by the road, I decided to brighten up the entrance to Joy Center’s driveway. I bought a huge bouquet of the brightest-colored balloons that I could find, planted them in the huge pot that sits on a stump, weighed them down with a rock and promptly forgot about them. Until that evening, that is, when Connie flew through the door for yoga. She loved the balloons, she exclaimed. They made her day. Then she promptly told the yoga class a story. Connie teaches kindergarten. And in her room at the school, she has set up an area with toys, and, every once in a while, she shakes things up, puts away the familiar, and adds something new. She had done that this particular balloon-filled morning. And when one of her students, a little six year old guy, ran over to the corner of toys, he screeched to a halt. And looking directly at Connie, he said in his loudest voice, “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming!!!” And Connie said to us, “That’s exactly how I felt when I rounded the corner and saw those balloons; Whoa, I didn’t see that coming!!!”
Connie’s story came back to me this past weekend. Once again, I flew to Maine on Friday to visit my ninety three year old mother at Dionne Commons, this time, landing in Manchester, New Hampshire. After a two and half hour car ride northeast to Bath, Maine, I arrived at the Hampton – my new home away from home – at ten in the evening. Hauling my suitcase with one hand, carrying a bag filled with Indian food in the other, I pushed open the door. It was a lovely room I stepped into, clean and spacious and new, with two double beds draped in crisp white spreads. And on one of the beds, I noticed a pile of lumpy-looking white towels. That’s odd, I thought. Then I looked closer. They were towels all right, but they were more than that. They had been magically transformed. Sitting in front of me, facing in my direction, was a perky-trunked, floppy-eared elephant. You would have thought that I was in the presence of the Indian Elephant God Ganesh himself, I was so delighted. I ate my curry and my dahl soup and felt less alone with the elephant sitting beside me, an elephant created with somebody’s own hands.
In the morning, I said good-bye to my elephant-god Ganesh, and stepped out into the day of a farmer’s market, and a long walk on leaf-covered roads with a childhood friend, a day of two visits to Mom at Dionne Commons and an hour of shopping in the college town where my mother now lives. I arrived back at the Hampton at dusk, just as the sky darkened and the snowflakes began to fall. It was chilly outside and the Hampton was warm and I looked forward to a quiet evening in my motel room. And once again, I pushed open the door, stepped inside. And that’s when I said it. I said it out loud, “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming!” Ganesh was nowhere to be seen. He’d flown back to India or to another room in the Hampton. But there was someone new, someone less exotic and more approachable. Sitting on my freshly-made bed, wearing my very own wide, white sunglasses was a dog, a dog made of towels. He – I’m pretty sure he was a he – was facing the TV, and holding the controller. The dog was companion enough, but I also felt like I had a friend at the motel, someone who had a sense of humor, who took the time to play with guests.
I love feel-great unexpected surprises. I love waking up in the morning and saying it, “Today, I delight in the feel-great unexpected surprises that are here for me!” And when I look at the world this way, with the enthusiasm of a kindergarten student, the surprises are everywhere. Yesterday, one of the pumpkins surrounding the maple at Joy Center was missing; all that was left was the stem and a bit of flesh. And the other pumpkins were dotted with tell-tale teeth marks. How did the deer eat that whole pumpkin!?! And later, while walking on my familiar trail behind the local drugstore, I was startled out of my daydream by the tap tap tap of a pileated woodpecker, huge and prehistoric-looking, and almost close enough to touch. And when I returned home, my husband had prepared my favorite meal, rice and beans and stir-fried greens. How fun to be on either end of the unexpected surprise, to follow your impulse and put a pair of sunglasses on the dog that you’ve just created with your very own hands out of towels for a guest at a motel, and to be the guest who walks through the door and squeals with delight, “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming!!!”