Serendipity

orangutan

(I feel like I need a hug this week.)

 

It’s been a rough couple of weeks around here. The house is cold because the house fire left a Mack truck sized hole in the living room wall. I mean, it’s covered now with cheap plywood and blue tarp, but it is frigid outside. I guess frigid is a relative term, so I’ll elaborate. Our night temps on Monday are projected to be 6 degrees. Single digit, six, just 6 degrees. Barely higher than that for the next few nights.  I’m not a big fan of ambient temperature less than the sum of my fingers and toes and here we are in the midst of a cold wave that doesn’t even require all my fingers. As my Yankee in-laws might say, it’s wicked cold. Six degrees. Now there’s a fine night for a fire in the wood stove. Oh yeah, I forgot. That’s the reason I have a gaping maw in my wall.

So, I’m a little brittle. Peevish. Ask my husband. He’ll say “snappish.” Short-tempered. All is not right within my world. The word “bitch” is not inaccurate this week. I am in a right fine snit.  Hissy fit a coming.  Woe be to those who seek favors, donations, or “just a minute of my time.” Go ahead.  Ask.  I dare you.

In the midst of all this internal chaos and pitiful coping skills, I took a moment to listen to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. It’s a short daily program on NPR (National Public Radio) that explores word origins, poetry, birthdays of august writers, and whatever else strikes Mr. Keillor’s fancy. I would categorize it as mildly interesting fluff, except that I’m a word origin nut so it really pushes my buttons. Love it.

Yesterday they reran an old post on the 2004 paper by a British translation service that listed the ten English words they thought were the most difficult, if not downright impossible, to translate. I can not find the complete list of ten, but some of the words included were gobbledegook, poppycock, spam, and whimsy. Kitsch was also included but that word is originally German so I don’t think that qualifies as an English word that is impossible to translate.

Then there it was, shining brightly among the rest, my favorite word in the whole world: serendipity. I love saying the word serendipity. I love the melody of it. I love the way it feels in my mouth. More than anything, I love the whole idea of serendipity. It is defined as a fortunate happenstance, or a pleasant surprise, but it is so much more than that. It is a moment of good luck when you do not expect it and are not looking for it. It’s not life-altering, just a magical flash of delight in your day. Ta da, it’s the quarter on the sidewalk, the front row seat becoming available right as you ask for a ticket, the perfect parking spot just as you turn into the lane, arriving in a foreign city and bumping into a long lost friend in the taxi line.

It is Alexander Fleming forgetting to disinfect some of his petri dishes holding bacteria cultures before vacation and coming back to discover that the penicillium mold that had taken over in his absence killed the bacteria. Ta da, penicillin. Viagra was developed to treat angina and hypertension, and it failed. Ta da, head south of the belly button and Viagra rocked the house. Serendipity loves laboratories, as X-rays, radioactivity, inkjet printers, the Slinky, all were moments of ta-freaking-da as other things were being pursued.

Julius Comroe, Jr., a medical researcher and surgeon extraordinaire specializing in the heart and lungs, was no stranger to the concept of serendipity. His most famous quote on the subject is, “Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.” I have to think that old Julius would have been fun at parties.

There’s a trick to serendipity, though. You have to be open to it. You have to be wandering through life with open eyes and an open heart to catch the many moments of serendipity dropped in your path. If you have your head down, texting away, mind whirling with a Sisyphean To Do list, grumbling, multitasking yourself into numbness, you’ll miss it all.  I am sad to admit that I have been too shut down to recognize serendipity lately.

So to pull myself out of the living-room-as-a-refrigerator blues, I reviewed the more obvious moments of fortune I did not fully appreciate this past week. Insurance adjusters were prompt and more importantly, they were sympathetic and reasonable. State Farm got us a check in just three days. Contractor has been here and has started getting materials together for the rebuild. My dear friend Mary Ann sent me a surprise box stuffed with goodies. I found a $5 bill in the laundry. All things that I simply wasn’t appropriately grateful for at the time they happened. I hope I did not miss too many more because I wasn’t paying attention. If I walked past a winning lottery ticket, please do not tell me.

I guess six degrees will be tolerable. I own multiple sets of long underwear. I have four large, lovable dogs and a cuddly husband for extra warmth. There are blankets here. I have all the ingredients to make a big pot of chili. There’s a well-stocked liquor cabinet.  Who knows?  It might turn out to be my coziest night ever. How’s that for serendipity?

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NOTE:  If you are interested in listening to the Writer’s Almanac, the link is:  http://writersalmanac.org

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Je Suis Charlie

I try to be funny.  Really, I do.  But sometimes I have no clue how my ideas are being received.  My writing has sometimes caused people to unfriend me on Facebook.  I have gotten bizarre comments on my blog.  I got yelled at for something I said when I thought I was complimenting the person.  I can be an absolute idiot.  I can unwittingly take awkward to whole new levels in public.  Sometimes I am just trying on new ideas, see if they stand up to being said aloud.  Sometimes I have formed opinions that do differ wildly from others. Sometimes, I am just going for the joke. That’s okay.  Differences make life interesting.  It’s a “to each his own” kind of thing. Everybody has a batshit crazy section in their brains.  Some of us open the door and air it out more often than others, maybe more often than we really should. Doesn’t mean a thing, though.

But today, my heart aches as I am reminded that some people are too damaged to understand when someone is just joking.  The news that a dozen people were killed in my favorite city, Paris, only because they worked for a magazine that published satire takes me to a dark place.  I just do not understand what has happened.

The satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo sometimes focused on uncomfortable topics, as it should have. That’s the beauty of satire.  It amuses while turning a spot light on religion, the government, egos, big business, the holy cows that flourish only when unexamined and unquestioned.

The editor, “Charb” Charbonnier, who was also one of the magazine’s cartoonists, was killed along with his police bodyguard.  He was once asked why he continued to hit issues that he knew would draw ire.  He answered that he preferred to die on his feet than live on his knees.

Ironically, just this past November Charlie Hebdo requested financial assistance to avoid bankruptcy.  Now, instead of the usual 60,000 issues it will publish one million copies of the next issue (14 Jan 2015) in defiance.  It is being called the “survivor” issue.

A makeshift memorial is growing in front of the Charlie Hebdo offices.  In addition to the de rigueur candles, note cards, and stuffed animals, people are leaving pens.  Hundreds of pens.  Pens, the most dangerous tool on the planet, strong enough to shake people’s core values, mighty enough to topple governments, are being left in memory of cartoonists and writers at a humor magazine.

My condolences to the survivors.  My condolences to the city of Paris.  My condolences to the friends and families left behind.  Joking just got real, y’all.

pen

2015 New Year Lucky Meal

 

New Year Day Dinner

In the South, we invite luck and prosperity to the new year by cooking certain foods on New Year’s Day.  Here is my celebration meal: rice and Hoppin’ John for plenty to eat because as long as you have beans and rice you’ll be okay; collard greens, the color of money, to invite cash to visit your pocket; likewise, cornbread, the color of gold, to attract wealth; and fried chicken, because there is nothing better.

I wish you health, happiness, and good fortune in 2015.  Good luck to us all, y’all!