The phone rings in the middle of my harp practice. I have just finished my lesson on Skype, and I intend to invest a little more time to integrate my teacher’s suggestions before I forget what she recommended. The cryptic notes I scribble during the lesson do help to anchor me, but there’s nothing like immediate reinforcement.
“I’m at Phil’s,*” Elmer says. “I just happened to mention that you have a harp, and he wants to see it. And maybe hear a tune or two?”
“Sure, but it’s Frère Jacques, an anonymous waltz, and a few Christmas carols . . .”
“That’ll be great. We’ll be over in a few minutes. And then, how about going out for lunch?”
Buoyed by the vote of confidence, and excited about the anticipated lunch, I launch my switch from private mode (spending the day at home with work projects and music) to people mode (chatting with friends) with make-up and a quick change of clothes. Less project work and more visiting today, it seems. Works for me.
My plan for the day has been dereailed, albeit in the best way possible. “Interruptions [are] my work,” Henri Nouwen said, and I need to remind myself of the inherent truth of the statement. Always more important than projects, relationships, along with the dialogue that accompanies them, stimulate and revive me, and spark my work like embers do kindling. “Recital,” lunch, and a wee dram of Scotch with more conversation later, we are richer for the spontaneous get-together. In this case, derailment is easy to manage—just resechedule and reorganize.
But what about critical derailment that blindsides and irrevocably alters the path of life, in the short or long term?
On a play the referees attempt to whistle down with one blow that’s no match for the crowd noise in Winnipeg, Rider quarterback Darian Durant gets tackled and tears a tendon in his elbow. Season over for him. In a nanosecond. On a play that didn’t count. Dismay on the team. The season will be different, now, for him, for his teammates, and for Tino Sunseri, who gets a chance to lead, to showcase his abilities.
In the media conference the Tuesday after the game, the press prods Rider coach Chamblin to dwell on the negative, to blame the refs. Chamblin is having none of it. If Durant is out for the season, if that’s “what we’re dealt, we’ll play the cards from there; . . . the game is history; .. . time to move forward; . . . we don’t work out of fear.” Yes, the team experienced a derailment. They mourned after the game. Now, they must perservere.
Football, though, is only football, however sacreligious that can sound to people who bleed green. It’s a less consequential context than the critical life events that can blindside us. I think of accidental death or a diagnosis of terminal illness as the ultimate derailments. One moment, life stretches ahead, an untraveled road paved with possibility and lined with landmarks past and future. The next, an electromagnetic wall blocks the path, the way ahead beckoning in tantalizing clarity, yet unattainable. In the face of tragic reversals of fortune, individuals consolidate their courage. Victims of tragedy grieve their loved ones for the rest of their lives, yet they put one foot in front of the other day in and day out. The dying decide not only to be positive, but cheerful. They want to use the time they have left to make a difference for those they know and love, and refuse to be embittered or resentful. They inspire the rest of us to manage our own derailments.
Derailments test our mettle. How will we manage life events that take us away from our plans? If, in the inconsequential redirections that mark our days, we steer a stable course and find the potential for growth, we can layer coat after coat of resilience and calm in the same way we might oil or varnish wood. We can attempt some preparation for the portentous derailments life is sure to bring. To inspire us along the way, we have the wisdom and strength of people who have it figured out.
*not real name