“One of the things that humans have is the wonderful opportunity to encounter surprise. But surprise is not going to track you down or come up to your door, knock, and ask to be let in. You have to be out there in the world among people and places to meet it, and, most importantly, you have to be open to it happening.” Curtis Williams
“You want to make God laugh? Tell God you have “plans.” Anonymous
Many people who know me would probably tell you that I am not a strictly-scheduled person or a person who necessarily thrives on routine. I like to hike and birdwatch following whatever calls to me, walk around the downtowns of cities just following whim and curiosity and what calls to me, and reading about, searching out, and following up on things that just catch my fancy. (My wife once commented that I had never met an historical marker I didn’t love.) I have always been a curious and multi-active person, and I am ADD. So I can go off in several directions at once instantly, no matter where I am and what I am doing. At the same time, though, when I do have a routine in some area of my life, I can get pretty hyper-focused on it and a bit miffed if it is disturbed. I am still an early riser after 40 years of teaching, so my morning routine is to be up and out of the house by about 6AM, go up to Chestnut Hill, have some coffee, walk around a bit, and then do something definite-meet some friends for coffee and/or breakfast, go shopping, go to a museum, walk around a specific place, go on a little trip, etc. And last Sunday was a day that I had known what my morning plan was, and I awoke fully ready to embark upon it.
I got my coffee in Chestnut Hill, met with some friends, went back for another cup of coffee, and then went to catch a train. Most Sundays I like to go to Quaker Meeting for Worship, and I normally go to the 10:30 Germantown Meeting at Coulter and Greene Sts. This was the first Sunday of the month, however, and there is a wonderful First Sunday brunch and blues jam at Jamey’s House of Music in Lansdowne that I love attending. So on those Sundays I train it to 30th Street Station and catch the Elwyn local, departing at Lansdowne station and walking up to Lansdowne Friends Meeting. It is a ¼ mile from Jamey’s and starts at 10. I have been doing this for some 7 months now, so I know the schedule of the trains and how long it takes me to walk from the station to the meetinghouse. I’ve got it down; it is now part of my routine.
Except that for the past two weeks, SEPTA, on weekends and during off peak hours, has been doing track repair on part of the Southwest section of tracks, and they were running shuttle buses from 30th St to the 49th Street station and sending the Elwyn local trains on from there. Not only that, but the schedules were now different, and I would not get to Lansdowne before the start of Meeting. POOF! Routine vanished! (And there may have been some quiet chuckling going on overhead.)
As I made my way to the shuttle bus I was miffed and trying to calm myself down. I was upset, and I definitely did not like my routine being tossed away. But as the shuttle bus finally left 30th St and took its slow, winding route through parts of West Philly, something strange began to happen. We went past the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and I remembered that I used to work there for 2 ½ years in the mid-1980’s. Suddenly I was remembering people with whom I used to work, including 2 of whom I am still in touch with to this day. And the bus went by that little campus walkway off 38th Street that led to the Biopond on Penn’s campus where Penny and I would sometimes go bird watching. It also went past Woodland Cemetery, a wonderfully large and immaculately landscaped space where we would hike and regularly see red-headed woodpeckers, ruby crowned kinglets, and cuckoos as well as some incredible tombstones, monuments, and crypts. I used to live in several spots in West Philly, as did Penny and my son, Evan, and the bus passed near those places as well. I used to play with a lot of West Philly musicians who lived near Chester and Baltimore Avenues, and we used to play picnics and gigs in Clark Park, which the bus also traveled past. Somehow I was recalling a whole slew of people, events, scenes and places I had not thought about in literally decades! By the time we got to the 49th Street Station I had re-connected, at least mentally, to a lot of great times and experiences in my earlier life. And I was-surprise!-happy about it.
But the morning was not over, and there was more to come. I realized that Meeting would be more than half over by the time I got there, and I do not like to come that late to Meeting for Worship. It is silent worship, and I feel it would make too much of an interruption should I come in more than 10 or 15 minutes late. The Elwyn local continues on to Swarthmore, though, and I suddenly remembered how much I loved that little community. So I thought I would go and re-acquaint myself with some parts of that town.
There is this wonderful coffeeshop called Hobbs right across from the train station, and, I stopped in there. Blast from the past; I was able to get a bottle of Stewart’s Cream Soda there-Stewarts! With my bottle, I started walking around that side of Swarthmore, remembering times and people and events from years ago. I had played coffeehouses there in the mid-1980’s. I had taught in a summer Upward Bound program for high school students from Chester for three years that took place at the college. I had gone out with a woman from Swarthmore. I had used their simply beautiful library several times. I had always liked the “old English Village” feel of the part of town across from the train station and the college, with its winding streets and Victorian architecture. Sunday was a sunny, beautiful and breezy day; the clouds overhead were stunning and wispy-stretched out with long, shapely curves. So many people of all ages were out and walking about those winding streets. I saw and spoke to a number of families out walking with their kids, including one 2 or 3 year old who was a master tantrum-tosser. He reminded me that when toddlers were upset, their whole bodies are upset: it is a total body experience. I also saw a number of older couples, including one that looked to be in their 80’s holding hands and joking as they walked along. I chatted and exchanged greetings with a number of folks of all different ages and nationalities, and by the time I caught the train back to Lansdowne to go to Jamey’s, I was in a far different frame of mind then I had been some two hours earlier. Surprise had appeared, and it had taken me to places I could not have expected or anticipated, and that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The jam at Jamey’s was wonderful, as it usually is. The various musicians there were both fun and having fun, including the regularly appearing Carol Moog Dave Rieter, Tony TNT Jones, Jamey Riley, and Toni Washington. The brunch was delicious. But the highlight of that day for me was the magic and power of surprise. Once again it had played an incredibly quiet and powerful role in my life. Had it not appeared as it did, and had I not been open to it, who knows what mood I would have been in when I hit Jamey’s? But surprise carried me through, even in spite of myself. And when that happens, I am in a much better place. Thanks, Surprise; once again you have saved me from myself.
A couple of websites: