What Happened? Happily, Perfectly Nothing

Just since April … 

• Today was typical for me. I was running late (as usual). I raced to my car, unlocked the door, stuck the key in the ignition, turned it, and waited a nanosecond. The car started. I made it to my meeting with minutes to spare.

• I’d crammed an especially heavy load of towels in my apartment-sized little washer/dryer unit. I could hear the washer moan and strain. When it hit the spin cycle, I heard the washer struggle. The washer continued all the way until the end of the cycle. No problem. (And I will never load that many towels in my washer again.)

• Tuesday afternoon in downtown Redding, near Shasta College’s Health Science building, I descended the stairs into the city’s underground parking structure and headed for my car that I’d left there two hours earlier. Yes, it’s a creepy, icky place, but I often park there, because I’ve never had any trouble there. This day felt different. The moment I reached the foot of the stairs, I stopped and looked around. I didn’t see anyone, but I sensed trouble, and my heart beat a little faster. I couldn’t place my unease, but headed for my car, looking around as I walked. I got in my car, locked the door, checked my mirrors, looked over my right shoulder and backed out. As I put the car into drive I looked forward and spotted a man curled up sleeping directly where the front of my car had been parked, partly beneath the bumper of my car. I hadn’t hit him with my car, and he didn’t even wake up as I pulled out. He was clueless. I was rattled.

• I turned on the garbage disposal, and noticed that a small spoon was poised on the mouth of the drain. Rather than turn off the garbage disposal first, I quickly grabbed the spoon before it fell down the drain. I did it! The spoon did not fall into the garbage disposal. My hand did not become mangled in the disposal. (I know. Dumb move.)

• My 8-year-old grandson jumped the span of my rock-wall staircase. That’s it. No broken bones.

• Starting in my 30s, I sprained my left ankle almost every spring, usually while walking and looking around and not watching my feet, so I’d trip in a hole or on a tree root, and down I’d go.  The result: a purple and yellow swollen ankle that waylaid me for sometimes a month or more. A few weeks ago I was working in the yard, hauling rocks from a pile to their latest location. It was hot. I was tired. I was getting sloppy. My left foot became high-centered on a rock. My ankle rolled. I stopped. I looked down. I took a tentative step. No sprained ankle.

• My twin came down with a whopping, nasty flu that kicked her butt, just a day after we’d been together. I didn’t catch her flu.

• There’s a rat trap behind a screened crawl space near my driveway. I peer toward the screen every day. Today, I looked. The trap was empty.

• One evening, I was feeling antsy and wanted to get outside into the night air, so I took a walk around my block. It was dark. No moon. I took my trusty pepper spray canister with me. I kept my finger on the pepper spray trigger the whole way. I got home safe and sound.

• A few weeks ago my sister and I took a stroll in my neighborhood while it was still light outside. As we rounded the corner a pit bull with a head the size of a basketball lunged at us, barking. I had recently heard about this very dog from a neighbor who said an older neighbor had been attacked by a pit bull that had emerged from the very house we were passing. Terrified, I squeezed between two garbage cans as the dog continued to bark at me. (He seemed uninterested in my twin, who was standing sans trash-can protection a few feet away on the sidewalk. Shelly later said the dog focused on me because he’d sensed my fear. She would have shown fear, too, if she’d known my neighbor’s story.) Finally, the dog’s master yelled at her boyfriend to get the f-ing dog -“Valentine” – under control. He did just that. My sister and I safely resumed our walk (but we vowed to bring golf clubs next time).

• My 1938 house has eight concrete steps between the sidewalk and my front porch. Some people cannot navigate the steps, so they come up the driveway and through the back door. Someday I will install landscape lights and handrails out front. Anyway, yesterday my arms were loaded with boxes, my purse, water bottle and keys as I made my way down the stairs. I reached the sidewalk unscathed.

• I was nearly asleep when I heard the high-pitched whine of a mosquito. I pulled the sheet over my head and fell asleep. No mosquito bites.

• To help clean my waffle iron after I’ve used it I fold a wet paper towel into a small square and place it inside the hot waffle iron and leave it to steam while plugged in for a few minutes. I did that last weekend when my grandson spent the night, and we’d made waffles. It wasn’t until I was nearly home from dropping off my grandson that a frightening question occurred to me: Had I unplugged the waffle iron before I’d left home? As I rounded the corner to my street, I expected to see flames from my house. There were none. All was well. My waffle iron was unplugged.

• I was finishing a glass of ice water when I bit down hard on a piece of ice. Crack! False alarm. My molars were fine.

• Because my neighborhood’s mail is routinely stolen from mailboxes, I have a post office box. Even so, out of habit I check my mailbox each day, mainly to retrieve junk mail. To my surprise a small package was inside, a gift from a friend. Not stolen. Still there.

• I woke up this morning with a fully functioning body. I drove a fully operational car to meetings and appointments, without one negative vehicular incident, accident, ticket or flat tire. Inside my home, I turned the faucets and had instant hot and cold running water. I baked cookies in an oven that worked just as it should. My brain processed these thoughts and words. My fingers typed them on a laptop that didn’t crash. My eyes read these words; editing, and revising, and rereading. Meanwhile, my ears heard the whir and chirp of hummingbirds outside my kitchen window, the wail of sirens a few blocks away, and the buzz of a small aircraft flying over my back yard. My cell phone worked fine, and was not lost or dropped or stolen.

Life has so many moving parts; so many days that can start so seemingly normal that can end so horribly sad, or shocking or disappointing. In an instant, people can go from healthy to ill, married to single, rich to poor, housed to homeless, employed to laid off, totally at peace or absolutely freaked out.  At ease to diseased. Able to disabled. Here one moment, gone the next.

And yet, on balance, even on the days when nothing is coming up roses, when nothing is going our way, when skies are cloudy all day, far more things go right than wrong. So many things that could break, don’t.

All those random examples I listed above, where things sailed along smoothly and nobody got hurt, nothing stopped working, and all was well, how profoundly different any of those days would have been – from potential annoyance to agony – if things had gone the other way. Sometimes, such as the case with my grandson leaping over the rock wall, or the man sleeping in front of my car, scenes of calamity pass before our eyes and we know and give thanks for what didn’t happen. But mostly, I suspect I was oblivious and unaware in the moment of so many averted disasters, of so many ways in which my life could have changed for the worse if the opposite had occurred. We humans suffer the luxury of assumption, that things should work, should cooperate, should go just fine.

Life is full of uneventful drives, and flights and lab work.  And when things do go sideways, we’re shocked, disappointed and mortified.

Sometimes the very best days – the most lucky days – are those extraordinarily ordinary ones, when life’s planets obediently line up without fuss or fanfare. What happened!!? Nothing. Wonderfully, joyously, perfectly nothing.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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