Weird stuff is gonna happen, and you might as well get used to it.
I try to be open. Somehow, somewhere, I got the idea that that’s the attitude we’re supposed to cultivate as healthy Unitarian Universalists. Open to new ideas and feelings, open to people we haven’t met before, open to spiritual practices we’ve always thought we wouldn’t give a hoot about, and open to challenging but morally mandated social justice practices—open to all experience, period. And then we learn from it.
Openness makes sense to me, and here I give some credit to my Unitarian Sunday School curricula in the 1950s, where we learned about wacky natural miracles; all kinds of creation myths, each one more unlikely than the last; tricky mind-blowing ethical dilemmas; other religions via The Church Across the Street; and whole years on Akhenaten (married as a child!), Jesus, and Socrates (my role model there for a while). Without church, I likely would not have stumbled upon any of these eye-opening perspectives in my otherwise ordinary life as a kid.
Even now, I’m drawn to oddball experiences, where the mind and heart burst open, often with delight or amusement, but not always—no guarantees. As Amelia Earhart put it, “By adventuring about, you become accustomed to the unexpected. The unexpected then becomes what it really is—the inevitable.” “Inevitably random” is what I think she meant—weird stuff is gonna happen, and you might as well get used to it.
That said, I’m not always prepared.
On a day during which I am watering some new plants under a tall tree in the back end of my yard, just watering, really, not thinking or observing, only watering—no adventuring here—out of the blue, something heavy, and large, and alive, lands on my head. I stand stock-still in this dopey pose, and whatever-is-serving-as-a-chapeau also stays put, while we both struggle to comprehend our situation. The fluffy tail swishing to and fro across my face like a windshield wiper clues me into the possible squirrelness of my companion, and indeed, once it gathers enough wits to push off my head, it shows itself to be a squirrel.
This encounter certainly qualifies as unexpected for both of us. Flabbergasting, really.
Did I display openness? Hard to say. Frankly, I had never considered the possibility of a squirrel jumping onto my head. Nonetheless, that squirrel landed on my noggin. The unexpectedness had become what it really is—the inevitability of haphazard occurrences—whether I was open to the experience or not.
And here’s a confession: beyond “beware of squirrels in high places,” I’m not sure what I really gleaned from this experience. For me, the episode simply reminded me of my belief that we live in a random universe, where squirrels can drop from the sky on an ordinary day. And if we want to, we can smile at the absurdity of it all.
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The Rev. Dr. Jane Rzepka served as senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship from 1999 to 2010. She is the author of A Small Heaven: Meditations and co-author of Thematic Preaching: An Introduction. Her latest book is From Zip Lines to Hosaphones: Dispatches from the Search for Truth and Meaning (Skinner House, 2011).
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