Most of us hate surprises, at least where relationships are concerned. We think we like them, but we don’t. We walk into situations with co-workers, family members, friends, spouses and we think we know how it will go. Actually if we’re honest we “know” how it will go. They will be deceptive, obsessive, narcissistic, compulsive, detached, you name it. Of course we know they have their moments. We’ve seen them be truthful, dispassionate, unassuming, restrained, engaged. Those are the options: the devil we know and the angel we hope appears. How often to we make space for someone to surprise us?
Now realistically the way of the world that we all find ourselves in day after day doesn’t often leave room for surprise. Many, perhaps most days if we’re honest, make us feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. It’s realistic to assume things will be as they have been, that nothing much changes in this world. And yet we pack in to see a film like Les Miserables, which is all about spontaneous change that cannot be programmed, orchestrated or anticipated. Somehow something comes in, seeming from the outside in, and changes everything. True the moments seem fleeting, but are they so rare as to seem mythical. No. Les Miserables seems fantastic, but we don’t consider it a fantasy. It’s the precipice we all want nuzzle up to, hoping not only that we’ll fall into it, but that its mystical gravitational pull will draw us into its being, changing ours.
The problem is that you get an experience like this and you do one of two things: fight or flight. You either fight to remake the world into this surprising reality or you flee from the world in an escapist fashion, seeking life-giving surprises in a fantasy world removed from the gritty recidivist patterns of the reality in which we feel trapped.
The freedom comes in a Latin phrase (what doesn’t?): simul justus et peccator. We are both right, or justified (justus) and bent, broken and problematic (or in the word of the old time religion: sinful). We need something that allows us to see ourselves as human, which equates to flawed, finite, in short fallen from the oasis of our highest aspirations, and also unconditionally loved. We need a reality to break in that helps us re-imagine what can possibly be and who possibly can be what, but one that is realistic. It comes with the realization that the mysterious reality that surprises us despite ourselves is in our midst, and yet ahead of us. It comes, yet can’t be caught or contained, only received. It’s already here, yet it’s not yet here. And it always leaves us satisfied and wanting, scared and assured.