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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