The pickup appeared without warning, moving past its stop sign and straight for the side of my car.
The doors took the shot. The air bags thumped into life. And everything came to a sudden, twisting stop.
“Are you all right?” a voice called from outside.
I was, mostly. My car, not so much. As I looked at the tears, scratches, and dents in the doors – including one chunk that was missing altogether – I realized two things:
1) I had been very lucky in my unluckiness.
2) I was going to be much later coming back from lunch than I thought.
Even when everyone walks away (thank heaven), something like that shapes your week. Phone calls, paperwork, Tylenol, and more become an unexpected part of the schedule, reminding you that what you planned and what you find can be two very different things.
Funny enough, what I had planned was to figure out a birthday present for my oldest niece, Ivy.
Ivy is turning 9 and has discovered epic fantasy. The bedtime reading for her and her younger brother Simon has lately included The Chronicles of Prydain, the Welsh-inspired adventures of an Assistant Pig-Keeper named Taran. One day, he chases after a panicking prophetic pig (say that five times fast) only to find himself in the middle of dread hunters, ancient magic, desperate rescues and – of course – the fate of the realm.
Did he expect any of it? Of course not. But a moment’s break in the routine transformed his entire life.
Fantasy is famous for that kind of thing. Bilbo Baggins finds 13 dwarves and a wizard on his doorstep, looking for a tea-break and for someone to rob a dragon. Lucy’s game of hide-and-seek finds a wardrobe that contains a lamppost, a Faun, and a kingdom bound in enchanted winter by the White Witch. In tale after tale, it only takes the slightest turn of a corner to turn a world upside down.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, gong out of your door, he used to say,” Frodo Baggins says in The Lord of the Rings, remembering his famous relative Bilbo. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Maybe that’s why those tales of magic and adventure still hold so much power now. They remind us how quickly the ordinary can become extraordinary, how the dull and everyday has no obligation to stay that way.
Sometimes they’re moments that echo the rest of your life. My own was forever shaped by a conversation in a nearly-empty bookstore – a chat that led to (so far) 21 years of marriage. And again by an unexpected death on a quiet Friday that rocked me, Heather, and all our family. The best and the worst, with the same power to ambush.
They’re not the moments you choose. They’re not the moments you expect. But they are the moments that re-set your choices and your expectations, that reframe your thinking and remake your life. The moments that can break your heart or make it powerful beyond imagining. Maybe both.
Those moments can be personal. They can be national. What they can’t be is easily dictated.
That’s not comfortable.
We want to write our own stories, to have full control of the plots. And when the twists come, it’s unsettling at best. You can’t see where the tale’s going. You can’t skip ahead. You just have to travel the road as best you can, with all its unexpected burdens and blessings.
And when each turn arrives, it forces us to think. To break out of the usual and look. To actually see the world around us, and not just a far-off destination. To learn what we value and what we’ve taken for granted.
That’s something I’ll try to remember on the road ahead.
Hopefully with a working set of wheels.