caught by surprise


The heat finally broke at our house this afternoon.

About three-thirty, the wind started coming in off the water, the blinds on the east side of the house began to sway slightly letting in the cool air, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. According to the forecasters, the week ahead won’t see too much over eighty degrees. It has taken the upstairs longer to cool off than downstairs, so I’m just now getting to the computer. As I sat down, I heard the pups bark and then smelled skunk in the air.

About ten-thirty every night, our two little dogs wake from their places on the couch and make the loop from the through the kitchen, living room, and dining room prancing with their heads in the air like the Royal Lipizzaner Schnauzers. Then they tear out through the puppy door into the backyard, barking like crazy. After a few minutes, they come back in, hop back up on the couch, and go back to sleep. Their job for the evening is done. Depending on how tired we are or whether The Daily Show is a rerun, we all usually head for bed soon after the backyard is secured.

Sometimes I’m surprised by the sacredness of simple things.

The surprise doesn’t come because I didn’t realize they were sacred before; it comes when I find what Marcus Borg calls a “thin place,” which is a moment or an experience when I am vulnerable enough to be caught by surprise. That’s the phrase I’m looking for. I want to revise the earlier sentence.

Sometimes I’m caught by surprise by the sacredness of simple things.

Caught the way a child is caught when he jumps off the side of the pool into his waiting mother’s arms, gleefully giggling the whole time. Caught the way an expression is caught in a photograph, a two-dimensional picture holding layer upon layer of memory. Caught the way a fly ball is caught when the outfielder lays himself out in a desperate dive and comes up with the ball in his glove.

Caught by surprise.

These are days when the sacredness of the simple has to speak up because I’m not sure what the bigger picture is. Once again, for me, life is a waiting room. August has come. I’m very aware that these final weeks at Hanover will pass quickly and I want to do my goodbyes well. It’s beginning to look as though I will be able to work full time at the Red Lion Inn, which is great news – particularly financially – but I know, since I’m running to open space, there is greater light yet to break forth. For a guy who grew up learning that work is worth, waiting is a daunting thing. I’m supposed to be changing the world, not just coming up with the lunch special.

I got to see Ken, my spiritual director on Tuesday for the first time in a couple of months. I talked about the darkness of the past weeks and the uncertainty of the weeks to come. As I began to articulate my struggle with waiting, he began to quote T. S. Eliot:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

And I was caught by surprise, which is to say by grace.

Robert, the Chef at the Red Lion Inn, prides himself on begin able to taste something and tell you what’s in it. When he comes into the kitchen and one of us has made something new, he tastes it, concentrates on nothing else but the food in his mouth, and then –quite accurately – names the ingredients he has discerned. The wind that comes in off the water has a distinct aroma. There is some moisture, though not necessarily humidity. There is a hint, shall we say, of those who live in the sea. But there is more, as if the crashing waves have a smell and the sand and rocks, too – even the stars overhead somehow.

The sea breeze, our crazy pooches, dinner together with squash from our garden and wine from Greece, and time to write tonight have caught me by surprise. I’m seeing more light. I’m learning to wait and savor the simple things. I’m beginning to taste the possibilities.



  1. Milton, I appreciate you! For me, some of the simple things are: a long hug from Jeff, hot tea with milk and sugar, slanting sun over the hills behind Heidelberg, laughing with my kids, rubbing our corgi’s velvety ears.

  2. thank you, once again.

    knowing that being caught by surprise is one of the greatest gifts we are given, i am waiting expectantly and with gratitude in my hands.

  3. It’s the simple things in life that make us enjoy it a bit more.

    I could taste the air from the sea as I read it. If you ever decided to sell your novel or write another book…I’d buy it.



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