Thursday, March 12, 2015

Expect The Unexpected

One interesting facet of life is that the old sayings, "The best laid plans of mice and men, often go astray" taken from a Robert Burns poem and "Whatever can go wrong will go wrong," a popular variation of Murphy's infamous law, are almost a given at some and ,usually, many times during one's life.

Some people will say that I'm spouting negative thinking. I beg to differ. I say I'm simply stating a fact of life, negative or positive. If these two statements have never applied at any time during your lifetime to this date, then you're overdue and you have a lot of catching up to do. Life is not perfect and it certainly isn't fair. However, one could (and really should) say the variety of challenges and difficult times we face and work our way through is what makes life interesting. They help us grow to be the strong, capable, competent people most of us become.

So, I simply suggest you accept that you need to . . .

Expect The Unexpected!

This is reality. The unexpected lurks around every corner, over every hill, behind every tree and from, well, the most unexpected places, people and circumstances. This is obviously why they are called unexpected. Even the best of the control freaks among us simply can't control every possibility. Life is just what it is. A giant serendipity and not all the things that befall us are positive.

On January 4, 2015, I was driving on I-5 through an area known as "The Grape Vine." This is a winding and pretty steep section of the interstate highway going over the mountain between the San Joaquin Valley and the San Fernando Valley leading into the Los Angeles basin. As I was progressing westbound up the steep, winding road to the 4,200 foot Tejon pass through the top of the mountain range, I felt the engine losing power. I stayed to the right in the slower truck lane. At about 2,400 feet, the engine failed. I lost all power and fortunately was able to pull off into a large area designed for the 18 wheelers and dual trailer trucks. I was in a safe place.

So, there it was. The unexpected. Did I expect it? Sort of, but not really. I realized that the engine was acting a little peculiar for a while, even on the continental crossing. But, I didn't expect a profound engine failure. Yet, here I was, 84 miles from my Los Angeles area destination and well over a hundred miles from the place I departed from in Clovis, California. I let the engine rest and cool down for about a half hour. I restarted the engine and it ran. It was noisier than before. When I put the transmission in Drive, the van moved forward, but, it had no power. I contemplated my options for a few minutes and decided I'd attempt to limp the 84 miles to my destination. I pulled the van onto the shoulder of I-5 and the best speed I could muster was about 10 mph with occasional spurts to 15 mph on the uphill grade.

I made it up the steep hill and through the pass. On the downhill side gravity would help the van achieve about 45 to 50 mph. So, I pressed on.

More Unexpected

I wasn't a happy traveler, but at least I felt confident I could limp to my destination and address this unexpected engine problem the next day, a Monday. Then, all of a sudden, now on I-405 and a mere 15 miles from my destination, I felt the sickening feeling of a flat tire. Again, I was fortunate enough to be next to a very wide pull off area. I got out, walked around the van, and sure enough, the brand new (less than 225 miles on it) right, rear tire was flat. So, this time I called AAA. It took a little over an hour for someone to arrive and change the tire to the spare.

Back on the road again, the four hour drive stretched to about eight hours when I finally arrived at my destination. The unexpected continued as I learned I was going to either need another engine or to have my engine rebuilt. Then to twist the knife of fate a little deeper, once the engine was rebuilt it seemed to be "possessed" by some kind of "demon." The engine technicians who rebuilt the engine tried everything and every trick in the book to find the problem and exorcise it. weeks then a month and then nearly two months went by before the demon was found and the engine (and van) were finally ready to get me back on the road, almost two months behind my "loose" schedule.

The Moral of the Story

This post is about expecting the unexpected. And, believe me, the  misfortunes I experienced were unexpected. But, with 70 years of my life to fall back on, indeed, even though these were unexpected events, I dealt with them as though I did expect them.

This is not the only incident like this I've experienced. Over my lifetime I can relate tens of experiences. And, if I really wanted to list and count them, it would probably exceed a hundred. Some of them were major life changing events like the death of my father at age 42 (I was 21) at his own hand. Another was my son, barely a toddler at the time, pulling a cup of scalding hot coffee on himself despite extreme efforts to place that cup in a location he couldn't reach. Another was the demise of my first marriage after nearly 20 years together. Even more unexpected was the demise of my second marriage after only seven months. Then there was the diagnosis and nearly fatal case of lymphoma of my third major relationship and the painful demise of that relationship after I nursed her back to health. There was my own diagnosis of prostate cancer culminating in the first and only major surgery of my life. And, then there was my son's emergency surgery for a ruptured spleen at age 15 while living with me, a single parent.

Yes! Life is full of all kinds of unexpected events. I'm sure you can enumerate many of them yourself. The unexpected is what shapes and molds us as individuals. It is these tests of our mettle that determines how we will succeed, muddle through or fail in life. There is another old saying that goes, "God never presents you with any challenges you can't handle." Some of these unexpected events may seem impossible on first examination. Most of us find the strength, courage and motivation to face them down and come out stronger on the other side.

Some of these unexpected experiences will actually be what we might refer to as serendipities. Not all unexpected events and experiences are negative. Many are positive and may be just as life changing as the negative experiences. Additionally, there is frequently a silver lining on the other side of that unexpected "dark cloud." You simply have to be looking for it as you tackle the unexpected.

Here's my current bottom line. I'm writing this article sitting next to My McVansion that's providing me with shade in the Arizona desert near the small town of  Quartzsite. The sky is deep blue, with a few white clouds. The sun is bright. The temperature is about 90 degrees, but in the shade with a pleasant breeze, I'm about as comfortable as I'd be in an air conditioned building. At night the temperature dips into the low to mid 60's and the huge, clear sky reveals a billion, billion stars. I'm camped here with several other full-time, vandwelling nomads who are now friends. We've enjoyed a couple days of camaraderie, sharing ideas, knowledge and experiences. Had I arrived here two months ago when I had originally intended to be here there would have been hundreds of people here. I look at it this way, these are the people I was meant to meet.

Additionally, I got to spend two months with my son, more time together than we've spent together in the past 11+ years. What a blessing that turned out to be. I just spent four days in the Palm Springs area getting to know a person who could be considered my step daughter along with her family. Then I had the opportunity to spend time with my former wife, my son's mother. We've maintained a friendship for the past 25 years since we went our separate ways. Before I left for the desert, my son arrived and the three of us shared a dinner together. I left for the desert. My son left to go back to Los Angeles to catch his flight to Istanbul, Turkey, where he sent me a text from to let me know he arrived safe and sound.

Expect the unexpected. And, when the unexpected makes itself known, deal with the issues and look for the "silver lining" on the other side. 


Henry said...

Thanks for this, a very inspiring post.

Gypsy Jane said...

Corollary: plans are an invitation to the Universe to mess around with you.

Fireman428 said...

I don't remember if it came up in discussion during your short stay with me. I live by O'Reilly axiom. Mr O'Reilly was an Irishman that thought mr Murphy was an eternal optimist.I'm glad to hear in all the adventures you remained safe from harm.

bd brown said...

Ed, Great post! Our goal is to get to "Q" in the near future to look at the billions of stars! Oh what a sight that must be!

Jack said...

Life has been good to you. God is merciful.IT IS ESPECIALLY GOOD WHEN YOU NO LONGER MUST FACE THE REALITY OF DEATH. The next life will be even greater, beyond our comprehension.