"The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us." — Ashley Montagu
In my two decade career as a magician I learned early on of the importance of not ruining the surprise for the audience by revealing the secret. If we’re attend a magic show and there is no surprise, if we see exactly how the tricks are being done, then that’s like going to a Broadway show where the curtains and theatrical lights have been removed. It may still be entertaining, but we have lost the magic!
The surprises in a magic show reflect the surprises we face in everyday life. Many surprises are “nice” surprises—say, when we find a twenty dollar bill in the pocket of a jacket we haven’t worn in a while, or when we run into an old friend that we haven’t seen in years, or when our boss calls us into the office to tell us that we’re up for an early promotion. These are all delightful surprises.
Other surprises are “not-so-nice” surprises—say, when we realize the jacket that we just found the twenty in isn’t our jacket, or when we run into the old friend we haven’t seen in years, and the reason we haven’t seen them is because they’re a real jerk, or when we find out that the promotion we’re up for involves more work without a pay raise. These are all ghastly surprises.
One of my favorite songs suggests the importance of surprises in life:
“Looking back on the memory of the dance we shared beneath the stars above. For a moment all the world was right; how could I have known you'd ever say goodbye?”
This song immediately invokes in me the memory of dancing with the girl of my fancy one evening a number of years ago. I had courted her for eight years and had finally won her heart. It didn’t matter that we danced in an abandoned parking lot, nor did it matter that there was no music playing. We danced to the music of our hearts.
“I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance; I could have missed the pain, but I’d of had to miss the dance.”
If I had known that just ten days after our dance an aneurism would kill her, would this information have stopped me from pursuing a relationship with her all this years?
I can say with authority that the ensuing pain was unbearable, and in the throes of grief I did often wish I had never even met her. But I can also say with authority that the dance we shared beneath the stars above is a moment that will “forever bloom in my heart, a heaven scent filling my soul.”
I believe that the surprises life presents us with help to ensure that we remain active participants in day-to-day life. I believe that they afford us with just enough doubt and just enough hope that despite the negative consequences there are an equal number of positive consequences also available, so long as we’re open to seeing them.
The Magic Word Surprise reminds us that we have a choice: We have the choice to let the unexpected be our tombstone, or we have the choice to let these same experiences be our stepping-stones.
The next time you find yourself surprised, respond with amazement and a commitment to make the most of it. How might that change your outcome?
Jonas Cain is an educator, facilitator, and coach, working to engage, empower, and encourage leaders and the people they serve to experience joy.