Last night I dreamed I was a stand-up comic doing my first gig. There was mic trouble, and as I tried to riff off a list of topics I had scrawled on a wrinkled piece of paper, people wound around me, trying to get the mic to work. Most of the audience, dazzled by the previous act and impatient with our technical troubles, were leaving in droves while I tried to come up with something funny from my notes. Very quickly, I realized two things: it’s all in the timing, and it’s best to simply take the leap and leave my notes behind.
So I started talking about how people will Surprise you, the examples pouring down on my pillow. I remembered how my father held on in a coma for 10 days until I arrived, and to my still astonished surprise, died 15 minutes after I walked in the door, my hand on his knee as his pulse ebbed away. I thought of a friend, with whom I was so estranged after years of tangles, that I was sure was gone forever. One night, after I dreamed of our reconciliation, I emailed her to find out that she had the same dream, and even more miraculous, we not only reconciled but found friendship on higher ground. My children, my siblings, my friends and community, and especially my husband frequently surprise me, acting in ways I couldn’t have scripted. I’ve received boatloads of delightful surprises, blessings all: flowers, apologies, requests, great stories, hot meals, bouts of laughter, weather-induced adventures, and cold drinks.
People can also surprise you in bad-to-worse ways. Someone recently lied to me, sparking my outreach. A sullen teenager I knew ended up taking his own life, breaking our hearts. Our world is peppered with betrayals, broken promises, sins of omission, and sly deals for the greedy.
Yet as my friend Shelley once told me — after adopting one baby to, a year later, receive the message, “Do you want the brother?” — life has more imagination than we do. So we’re in for a lot of surprises. What we find in books and movies — the magical endings or new beginnings — may thrill or satisfy us, but surprises are even sweeter off the page and screen because they’re happening to us: the new love, the old pal returned, the book or record deal, the first green of the lettuce after the frost we thought killed it, the last sweet potato dug up in late November, the sudden sun shower, the resolved fight, the new kitten, the drought or flood years, the way just a little hammering can repair a falling-down porch, the first mosquito of spring, the shimmer of lilac a month early, and the snowy owl on the power line.
My dream ended with this line: Enjoy the show, and when it’s over, see what’s next. We’re all tuned into the surprise channel, and you don’t have to be a stand-up comic with technical issues in an empty room to see the folly, beauty, and sweetness of that.