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Pleasure in the Unexpected
Humans are always trying to find the right balance, the happy medium. We work to establish a certain routine—yet we are frequently tickled to have it disrupted. We often welcome the unexpected, for mostly we love a surprise.
Pleasure is built into the very definition of “surprise”: “to strike with a sudden feeling of wonder or astonishment.” When people fall in love (fall, as if thrown off balance), they often feel astonishment. Why Jennifer? She was just another woman yesterday, but now she is Everything! The lover is amazed by the wonder of it all. Love is perhaps the greatest surprise life can offer.
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But little surprises are also enhancing. A rainbow is so rare, it’s always a surprise, especially when it appears on your toilet!
I entered Grand Central last week, bummed that I had to wait twenty-five minutes for my train, which runs at half-hour intervals. But as I walked in from 42nd Street, I saw something curious. In the area before the main lobby, a squash court and bleachers had been erected, and a tournament was underway. Two women were smashing the ball against the wall with seeming fury. There was an empty seat, so I sat down, enthralled. What a surprise! I was sorry when I had to leave to catch my train.
I had another surprise the month before, when I was walking down the long, tiled underground corridor that connects the A train to the Shuttle. A middle-aged Black woman had set up a portable sound system. She turned on the music and began to sing with it. It was “Sweet Dreams,” by the Eurythmics, and she had a good voice.
Now it’s not surprising to find musicians in the subway. What is surprising is what happened next. One onlooker began singing along with her, and, without any encouragement, others joined in. Soon everybody was singing. Group singing has almost died out in our culture, and I had no idea that this 40-year- song was universally known. If you know the first line about sweet dreams being made of this, you probably know the next five lines, too. The audience grew, perhaps themselves surprised to find they knew these lyrics. By the third chorus, about forty people were joyfully screaming the words along with singer. Some people were literally jumping up and down!
Photo by James Petts
I once threw a surprise party for my cousin, who was turning thirty. I made several pans of lasagna, bought a cake, and decorated the living room. So she would be wearing something nice, I told her we were going to take her out to a good restaurant for her birthday. Decades ago, going to a restaurant was a rarity, a treat.
It all worked almost perfectly: about thirty of her friends showed up on time, and we all waited for her to arrive. She rang the downstairs buzzer, giving us a few moments to assemble, and she climbed the flight of stairs. I opened the door of the apartment, and she walked in. We all yelled, “Surprise!”
She took it all in, her friends, the balloons, and the streamers. Then she said to me, in some distress, “Does this mean we’re not going out to dinner?”
Random Note: My new novel will be published in exactly one week, and you can preorder Kindle and paper right here.
There’s a reason it’s published on Valentine’s Day!
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