Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Expected and Unexpected Things

Barring divine intervention, there are basically two ingredients that create the great circle of life: expected and unexpected things. This is not the same as saying there are basically two flavors of ice cream, Vanilla and Chocolate. That may have a vanilla-bean-sized grain of truth to it, but it is not consistently true. For example, a vanilla base (or at least an ordinary, white, bland one) is used to make Peach or Strawberry ice cream.

Olalieberry pie with vanilla ice cream.

And, it is true, that many flavors feature a chocolate theme (Chocolate Almond Crunch, for example, or Mint Chocolate Chip). But there are those inexplicable flavors, whether ordinary or exotic, that are neither Chocolate nor Vanilla. On the ordinary side, Coffee or Butter Pecan; on the exotic, Polish Plumb Brandy or Swedish Olalieberry (pronounced oh-la-le-berry but looks like a blackberry; its pie avatar goes very well with vanilla, not chocolate ice cream). Admittedly, Olalieberry ice cream is probably vanilla based, but Polish Plumb Brandy is obviously based on a liqueur, so it would seem to defy the chocolate/vanilla schism.

No surprise here.

But unexpected and expected things are not normally ambiguous like chocolate v. vanilla. Rather, they are pretty much the whole deal, the entirety of life in a nutshell. Don’t believe me? Consider this: if you go hiking in a forest, you expect to see trees. So that’s in the expected category. So is, nowadays at least I think, a professional athlete who has had multiple affairs. Seriously, how is that surprising? Equally unsurprising is the fact that people smoke marijuana at a rock concert. Recently, the singer Roger Daltrey—let no one at this point ask, “Who is that?” for it is a self-answering question—reacted vociferously using rather volgäre Wörterja wohl—aus vier Buchstaben! (as the Germans are wont to say) to some of his front-row fans who were using the substance. Why would you be surprised to see or smell people smoking pot at a rock concert? Who would have thought that is surprising? (Another self-answering question.)

Conversely, recently a Ferrari was stolen in Germany by a mildly overweight middle-aged man with thinning hair. He took it out for a test drive and simply did not return it. According to news accounts, the car dealers in question, being savvy Germans, were suspicious of him from the get-go and did not let him simply drive off with the car without one of their employees going along for the ride. Why they were so circumspect is not clear, for in the video-cam photo still he looks rather an unlikely car thief (though perhaps that is because I would have imagined a svelte individual dressed in sunglasses and a black-tie outfit, wearing Pink-Panther-style gloves.) But, having pulled the car over, this clever man pretended at some point he had had enough of driving the vehicle and asked the Ferrari employee to change places with him so that he, the thief that is, might get a feel for riding, too, on the passenger side. When the employee got out of the car to come around to the driver’s side, off sped the thief with the car. And they still have not found this man, even though his photograph is now sprawled on the internet in a viral fashion.

Equally unexpected and in many ways more paradoxical is that the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles to be precise, is now opening a bed and breakfast in Scotland. It is rumored that he is doing so because he imagines that he shall never be king, and that the next best thing is to have an elaborate bed and breakfast. And I understand that, in a way. Indeed, I myself will never be a king, so I can see thinking, “Well, if I can’t be a king, in that case I’ll start a bed and breakfast.” Point taken. But in Scotland? Isn’t doing so, for the Prince of Wales, tantamount to high treason? And even if it is not, it is certainly unexpected and wrong (i.e. incongruous, not necessarily morally wrong) on a number of different counts.

But most surprising of all—even shocking—is, of course, a tennis racquet that kills flies electronically. I call it “the tennis racquet of death.” Such a device is unexpected on a number of levels. For one thing, it has brought out a side of my wife that I had never seen before. Yesterday she went berserk on a moth. The flies are normally too quick for her—she is suffering from CFS, and that has slowed her down significantly—but moths, being slow-moving and much more likely to eat her sweaters, are what you might call “soft targets” for her. And she got one yesterday caught right in the racquet and she electrocuted it. What was strange and unexpected, to me at least, is that she would not let go of the trigger button but kept roasting the dead little beast. She seemed to enjoy it, and that scared me, because, though moths are notorious for eating sweaters, they seem to me to be something like butterflies, sort of the sad butterflies that never got to become beautiful, so I’ve always had a tender spot in my heart for them. But for my wife, that is apparently not the case. I will here admit that I truly enjoy killing flies with the tennis racquet. I now actually have a touch of tennis elbow from it, for I killed eight such creatures in one evening, enjoying it almost as much as playing real tennis. These are the two categories of life: expected and unexpected things.

The Tennis Racquet of Death Perched atop an excellent reproduction of Callicrates’ “Nike Sandal-binder,” ca. 425, BC; original in Temple of Athena on Athenian Acropolis. (The modern art symbolism here is clearly “Victory over Flies and Moths”)

All that, as I said in the opening words of this blog, is barring divine intervention. Yet this week one of my friends who was gravely ill was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with acute liver failure. Friends of him, like me, and even my own friends who had never met this friend of mine, took time to pray. In the meantime, the outlook was, to say the least, dire. Yet, yesterday evening I learned that the doctors, through more tests, discovered that the problem turned out to be with his gallbladder: miraculously, he suddenly no longer had liver failure but, thankfully, gallstones. Everyone was utterly shocked and overjoyed at the same time. And, after saying a prayer of sincere thanksgiving, I scratched my head and wondered to myself (and I’m not saying this to make light of it, for I am truly thankful for his recovery), “Is this wonderful development more like the electric tennis racquet or marijuana at a rock concert?” I decided it just may be both: on the one hand, it is utterly startling when something like this happens, it’s a miracle, and miracles are startling. On the other hand, I pondered, should we really be surprised when the God of wonders and miracles does a wondrous miracle?

In any case, I am deeply grateful that my friend not only survived when he was not expected to but also that he can have a fresh and healthy reset on his life. And I here thank all my friends for praying on short notice, and I challenge us all both to be surprised and, I hope, unsurprised at the same time.

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