Jewish World Review Oct. 6, 2004 / 21 Tishrei, 5765

Susan Ager

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Consumer Reports

We no longer allow life to surprise us | We're being robbed of surprises.


I was, too, when a reader e-mailed me to say that she, like the rest of us, had been resoundingly unsurprised by John Kerry's choice of a running mate.

"There are so few true surprises today," she went on. "Thanks to ultrasounds, the baby has a name to match its sex even before making its debut.

"The bride-to-be picks out her own ring instead of having it presented to her as a surprise.

"The car industry doesn't surprise us with new models in the grand manner it used to each fall."

Wow, I thought. She has a point. And I confirmed with physicians at the University of Michigan that 80 percent of pregnant women want to know the gender of their babies and consider an ultrasound a failure if it can't tell them.


I came up with more examples:

You needn't be surprised by rain anymore because you can see it coming, bright green, on your computer screen. My brother owns a weather radio that sounds an alarm in his home when a storm approaches, and the Weather Channel will page you if a tornado's headed your way.

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Nothing much surprising happens in politics anymore, each party stuck in the concrete of its principles. Nobody will watch the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer because all the important stuff happened long ago. Rarely do surprises occur when events are so tightly scripted.

We can program our computers to alert us to our friends' and family members' birthdays and anniversaries so they won't take us by surprise. We can buy electronic devices to measure our blood sugar or blood pressure every day, by the hour, if we wish, so the doctor's lab tests don't wallop us with news we're not expecting.


Who wants surprises, anyhow?

I do. Maybe you do, too.

Our lives, rich as they are, can be so numbingly predictable that even bad surprises - a parent's heart attack, for example - prove to be oddly energizing. A friend who nursed his dying father for a week told me, "I never felt so alive." There may not be many surprises in politics, weather or the auto industry anymore, but daily life is full of wonders, if finding a long-lost bra stuck up in a pant leg can count.

Look in the yard. Something will be growing that you didn't plant there. For the first time this spring, for example, a rare bloodroot bloomed in a neglected spot beside our garage, its seed carried there, I'm told, by energetic ants.

E-mail allows old friends and former lovers to reach out in the middle of the night and shock us in the morning with their appeals for a rendezvous or reconciliation.

The warranty on a broken child's bike, tucked away three years ago, may actually be found - Surprise No. 1 - then honored - Surprise No. 2. Two surprises in a row qualify as a story.

From the pages of an old book, pulled out for dusting, may fall a rough-torn obituary for someone you never knew.

These are simple surprises, each like a fish leaping once from still water.

Life offers deeper, more lasting ones, too, if we encourage them. As novelist Fay Weldon observed: "If you do nothing unexpected, nothing unexpected happens." Because I am by nature a fearful person, I have to remind myself all the time:

Surprise is the reward of risk.

Susan Ager is a lifestyle columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.