Anticipating better surprises

Published 6:00 am Friday, June 4, 2021

I dislike surprises. I prefer it when life’s events align with expectations.

I’ve noticed that the most common surprises seem to feature unpleasant consequences. An ice storm topples a tree. The lawnmower won’t start. A bear steals the birdfeeder.

One such rude surprise happened the day I made a loaf of chickpeas and vegetables for dinner. The recipe required hours of preparation and included my stovetop, food processor and microwave. When it was finally assembled, I popped it into a preheated oven along with a potato dish. An hour later, I took both out, setting them on a cooling rack. When transferring them to the table, I lifted the potatoes first. To my stunned disbelief, that action upset the center of gravity on the rack. I watched in paralyzed silence as the loaf pan slid off the rack, across the countertop, and plunged to the floor. It inverted itself on the way down. Then, the pan chose a landing spot directly atop a heating vent in the floor. This enabled it to spill part of its contents into the depths of the ductwork.

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Surprise! I think I heard it laughing.

Based on experiences like these, I developed the habit of viewing surprises with a less-than-enthusiastic attitude. Yet, lately the world has been conspiring to teach me new things. I’ve noticed a string of pleasant surprises.

They started one still-chilly day when I was sorting through the mail. I spotted what appeared to be a personal letter. The carrier who delivers mail to our home is a delightful person, but the stuff she brings typically consists of pieces of junk that go directly into the trash. This precious envelope was different. I opened it and found a charming missive from a family friend. She said she always intended to write to people other than at Christmas time. Now, she was actually doing it. The surprise warmed my heart.

Then, one sunny day, my husband and I planted some seeds in a patch of ground we had carefully prepared. Following in the footsteps of impatient gardeners everywhere, I went out an hour later to gaze at the bare earth. Nothing had sprouted. By the next morning, nothing had sprouted. After several episodes of scrutinizing dirt, I yielded to reality. My eagerness would not make the plants emerge faster, so I stopped making special forays to look. Nearly a week later, when my mind was occupied elsewhere, I spied something green out of the corner of my eye. My brown dirt was speckled with green shoots. The miracle of their sudden appearance caught me entirely unaware.

Even the night sky recently served up a surprise. My husband and I went out to enjoy a session of stargazing. The familiar constellations were all lined up, right where we expected them. Without warning, I noticed a bright light climbing over the tree tops. It was followed by another. And another. The lights kept coming as if some unseen, distant hands were shooting off massive roman candle fireworks. The lights arced across the sky, and more kept coming.

The appearance of these lights came as a surprise because I hadn’t foreseen their arrival, but they weren’t a mystery. They came from a string of 60 recently launched satellites. Although the sun had already slipped far enough below the horizon for night to have begun, from my viewing spot on the ground, the satellites’ orbit was sufficiently high to still catch and reflect sunlight. They formed a dazzling parade and then vanished, one by one, over the opposite horizon as each passed into the earth’s shadow. Some industrious folks who track satellite trajectories wouldn’t have been surprised by their appearance, but for me they presented an unanticipated, thrilling sight.

There’s more. One morning, a butterfly landed on my husband’s hat and went for a walk with us. On another afternoon, I stepped out my front door to discover a rainbow. And, my phone chimes at random moments signaling the arrival of a message or picture. Rather than spend my emotional energy fearing my well-laid plans may go splat, events like these are inspiring me to look for the fun surprises that enrich every day.

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from You can contact Karen at