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[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us. – Boris Pasternak[/mk_blockquote]
If asked, I’d probably automatically say I’d never been a big fan of surprises. And, if by surprises you were talking about surprise parties or surprise tests or even surprise visitors, my knee-jerk response would be accurate. I don’t like to feel caught off-guard or unprepared. When this happens, it’s pretty hard for me to get over the stress of the moment to “go with the flow.” I function much better when I receive an invitation or a syllabus so that I feel prepared. Even a last minute call to say you’re on your way gives me the time to quickly whip myself and the house into presentable shape.
That said, in the last several weeks, I’ve discovered that not all surprises leave you feeling off kilter or tripped up or scrambling. Some surprises leave you astonished, bowled over and overwhelmed with joy or love or even pride. These surprises crack open the shell of what we think we know – about our loved ones and ourselves. They leave us dazzled by the possibility hiding in each moment.
It was no surprise that our daughter was in the high school musical. After all, we’d been driving her to and from rehearsals for months. She’d been humming, whistling and even singing the songs from the Sound of Music until we knew the melodies as well as she did. We’d shopped for character shoes and listened as she described her costume. We’d heard her reviews of the show, her fellow actors and even her own performance.
All that aside, as we sat in the theater on her opening night, we had absolutely no idea what to expect. And to say we were surprised would be the understatement of the year. When she walked onto the stage with her three fellow nuns, we were so busy figuring out who was who (nuns in full habits are remarkably camouflaged, by the way), that we didn’t even realize that it was her singing for the first few notes of “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” My husband elbowed me and gave me an astonished look as her high, sweet, full voice rang from the stage. My mom was squeezing me on the shoulder, tears running down her face proof that mine were hereditary. When the four nuns launched into song together – each in full voice, each holding true to her own part as the others sang around her, each taking turns singing solos and duets – I was rapt.
I had absolutely no idea my child could sing like that. None. In the best possible way, I was completely and utterly surprised. I was awed, proud and awash in love. I was left reeling. If she could do this – seemingly (at least to me) out of the clear blue – what else was she capable of? Suddenly the child I know so well was standing in the spotlight and I was thrilled to discover that I had a great deal left to learn about her. Even today, weeks later, that surprise has left its mark. I find myself watching her with keen eyes, wondering what she’s got up her sleeve rather than assuming I already know. It turns out I am a huge fan of this kind of surprise.
I ran into another surprise in the yoga teacher training program that I run. I was taking my students into a posture we hadn’t yet worked on together. I had utter confidence that each of them was ready to try the pose. Each had developed the needed strength and flexibility. More importantly, each had developed proficiency in previous postures that teach the necessary skills for this one. And, one by one, they popped into the posture.
Until, one student gave me a look that said, “I don’t think so.” I said, “You can do it.” She said, “I don’t think so.” I said, “I know so.” As she set up, every inch of her body language was screaming, “No way!” As she was perched there, I calmly explained how we knew already that she could do it – she could do this easily, she’d already learned to that, she’d mastered this one which required more strength and that one which required more flexibility. She looked back at me and said, “You’re crazy, I can’t do it.” and then hopped into the posture. She actually shrieked!
My student astonished herself. Her surprise was complete and total. I can safely say that it was one of the happiest moments of the entire program – not just for her but for all of us. Watching someone break through the barriers of her own self-belief to reach new heights is inspiring and exciting. Not only was I thrilled for her, but my own memories of surprising myself rushed back. The time I reached down in Triangle Pose and felt my toe. The time I accidentally lifted into headstand in the middle of the room when I was showing a friend how to set up. The time a friend said, “You’re totally strong enough for that,” and after arguing with her, I found out that I was.
Surprising yourself, yields many of the same gifts as being surprised by someone else. It can leave you awed. It can shatter the complacency that settles over you when you assume you know what you can and can’t do. It can leave you awash in joy and pride. It can leave you wondering what else is possible. In other words, it leaves you with clear eyes and an open heart as you consider your own potential.
Surprises like these also leave us open to the surprises hiding in the moments of our days – especially if we keep an eye out for them. As Henri Nouwen writes,
Each day holds a surprise. But only if we can expect it, can we see, hear or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.
A spring snow storm. A quiet evening of togetherness in the living room after a bicker-filled family dinner. A card in the mailbox. Crocuses peeking up in the yard after a suddenly warm day. Surprises like these are easy to receive. But they also leave us more open to and accepting of sad or troubling news. Less than hoped for lab results. A bad grade. The loss of a job. Tough surprises like this can be tinged with hope and optimism when we’ve embraced the possibility and potential of the always surprising nature of life.
Go ahead, let the people in your life surprise you – in fact, expect them to surprise you. Then go a little further and surprise yourself. Perhaps the biggest surprise will be that you will fall in love with surprises.
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