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 of the Czech Republic. 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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39 Responses

  1. Avatar erin friedman says:

    Indeed, There’s a line from “Our Town” that always stuck with me — when I did it in junior high and when my kids performed it in homeschool drama: — “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?” Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    We should count our blessings for these mundane things.

  3. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    ? , , , Life has many moving parts!” BOY HOWDY!!! And it’s not until one of those cogs, no matter how tiny or seemingly inconsequential, goes awry hat we realize how one, tiny cog can gum up the works. But on the days that no gum shows up . . . yup . . . we tend to be oblivious to the magicality (like that word?) of the uneventful day. Right on, girlfriend!!!

  4. Avatar Linda Cooper says:

    At first your article reminded me of the phrase, “dodging a bullet.” Especially with the dog! Or for me, the blissful feeling of not immediately moving forward after the light turns green, and I witness cars passing in front of me, ignoring their red light. And yet, there’s more to the story? It’s taking the time to appreciate all that moves well in our world. Thank you for reminding me.

    • Again, I wish I’d used your line: “It’s taking time to appreciate all that moves well in our world.” Well said.

      (As an aside, your comment, and the others before and after you are impressive examples of the high caliber and quality and intellect of ANC subscribers. Where else do you see this? Nowhere.)

  5. Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

    I love this article so much :).

  6. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    The gift of an ordinary day. They really are gifts we rarely appreciate. Great reminder!

  7. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Zippty Do Dah, Zippty Day, My oh My what a wonderful day
    Mr. Bluebirds sitting on my shoulder, Zippty do dah, zippty day

  8. Avatar Anita Brady says:

    Last Friday, my daughter (visiting from Oz) and I set out for Crescent City on 299W. I have done this trip nearly 10 times per year for the last 5 years since I promised my mother a monthly visit after I had retired. We had the added benefit of Mother’s Day coming up. The trip was done in my second Kia Soul as I had traded in my first one once it hit 80,000 miles. Love my Kia Soul.
    Up and down the mountain grades, no problem. Around the curves of the Trinity River Canyon, no problem. Got “slow” at one of the one-lane sections with slide work being completed, so little delay. Just west of last pass (Lord Ellis), car revved very high, something slipped in the engine, car shuttered and daughter quickly pulled over to shoulder, immediately before highway had none. We backed into a gravel area below our location and sat to take stock of what happened.
    Climbing out of car, I looked up on the hillside (Berry Summit) across the way and saw a welcome sight- a cell tower. My cell phone had 3 BARS. As many know, there is little cell service along 299W, but we broke down where we had 3 BARS and a gravel turnout! Calls to Arcata tow company, insurance broker to get tow bill, rental car company in Eureka to reserve car and Kia dealer in Eureka to warn of our impending arrival. Shady location, water to drink and fortunately, empty bladders made the hour wait for tow an easy process. Hour later, we were in rental car, headed to late lunch in Trinidad after calling mother to tell her we were running a bit late.
    Not the end of the story, but reminding myself, that things could have been much worse!

    • I was with you all the way, Anita, heart in my throat. So glad things turned out as they did. In a perfect world, the car wouldn’t have broken down at all, but being as though it did, the outcome was so much better than it could have been on other stretches of that windy road. I’m relieved for you!

      • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

        Anita, your story reminded me of what happened to my husband last year. I’ll skip past the part about what led up to my husband deciding to drive his drunk, down on his luck friend back home to the coast. Just like you, he was in his KIA. Car revved. Something blew. They ended up on the side of 299, but NO cell service. While his friend slept off his drunk, my husband walked a mile and a half to an RV park/mini golf course where he could borrow a phone. It took the rest of the day to get a tow back to Redding. The upside was that they were stuck in the middle of nowhere, his friend had no access to more alcohol, and they had nothing to do but play mini-golf and start the discussion about his friend’s problems. All in all it saved their friendship.

  9. Avatar Gary Solberg says:

    I really enjoyed this post Doni. Truly there is much for which to be grateful on a daily basis. Really almost every moment. Hot and cold – and drinkable – water inside our homes! Such a wonderful blessing. I am grateful for each new day. No matter what.

    • Avatar Linda Cooper says:

      Gary Solberg, I can so relate! In fact, if I’m down in the dumps, and can collect mySelf enough, I relish the practice of appreciation. Typically, it starts with appreciating my feet for holding me up, and usually what follows is the hot and cold water at my ready. I literally thank my feet, the water, etc. out loud. I’m no therapist for sure, yet this seems to shift my focus. Additionally, there is a Buddhist ritual of simply laughing to gain stability. The laughing works for me, especially if the grandchildren start in first. Maybe I ought to try that. Ha, ha.

  10. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    What an uplifting bunch of comments and commenters! Where but on ANC . . . ?

  11. Avatar Candace C says:

    Doni, I love your column today. My very favorite thing to “do” at my house on windy days ( like today!) is to listen and watch as the wind ebbs and flows through the trees in my back yard bringing about the crisp, rustling sounds of the leaves as they dance about. If I close my eyes the wind gusts mimic the sound of the crashing of ocean waves. These sights and sounds coupled with the sound of the large wind chime on my small back patio with its deep, rich tones always serve as a reminder to me that life can turn on a dime and therefore to slow down, be still and be cognizant that more often than not it’s the simple things in life that bring me the most joy.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      This is so beautiful, Candace. I slowed right down and lived it with you for a moment there… 🙂

    • Candace, what a beautiful moment you shared. I was there with you, too, just as I was with Anita. (I love your description of the wind mimicking ocean waves.)

      And absolutely true about the simple things in life that bring the most joy.

  12. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    I’m looking out the dining room picture window at the back yard. The sky is gray, and the grandkids’ pool floats are tumbling across the lawn. One of the chickens blew over in a strong gust. This evening’s league tennis match will likely be canceled due to wind and rain.

    In other words, a perfect day to finish my book and prepare a challenging new dish for dinner—something a little more warm and savory than our recent spring/summer fare.

    Today’s column strikes me as the opposite of that apocryphal Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

    • Thanks for letting us share the view from your dining room window, Steve. You made me laugh at the thought of a chicken blowing over.

      I can feel the contentment of your day, and it sounds perfect.

      I’ve always loved that Chinese quote/curse about living in interesting times. Yup, give me a less- interesting time any day if it comes with peace of mind.

      When I get my chores done I’m going to bake some molasses ginger cookies and then sit by my living room window and knit. This is a great day to stay indoors unless we absolutely must go outside. I love it!

      (Have fun making dinner. Soup? Stew? Chicken pot pie?)


  13. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    We were scheduled to be a part of a neighborhood yard sale Saturday and Sunday. I had moved the cars out of the garage and put most of the sale stuff in the garage along with several display tables. It’s now been canceled due to weather. It was a ton of effort to sort and cull these past three weeks to make ready for the sale, and now I have to find places to stash it all in order to put the cars back in. At least we now know what we can live without, and I don’t have to bake scones for the potluck breakfast. Donating all of it sounds better and better. Anyone want a walk-behind weed whacker or a Hoover carpet steam cleaner? How about four room-size humidifiers? Or two ceiling light fixtures? Maybe a Viking sewing machine, Baby Lock serger, and a sewing table? Back to finding places for all of it . . .

    • Beverly, sorry your yard sale was cancelled. What a bummer, after all that work.

      Hey, you’re a paid subscriber. Feel free to list the prices of things you’re selling. Who knows, maybe our ANC peeps will be interested and come and get the items.

      Good luck!

  14. Avatar Candace C says:

    Steven, First, how wonderful to be writing a book! Second, I have to ask. Did a live chicken really blow over? Forgive me, I realize that’s not funny to said chicken but it made me laugh. I pictured looking out the window contemplating life as a chicken suddenly blew over on the wind . Sorry, my sense of humor runs along the lines of the silly/absurd to the sarcastic ( that one’s got me in unintended hot water before).

  15. Avatar Candace C says:

    Deb, I’m pleased to have served somewhat as a catalyst for a shared “slow down” moment with someone such as yourself. Ain’t life grand sometimes?!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Definitely! (And Steven’s blown-over chicken made me laugh, too, in spite of how the poor chicken might have felt about it!)

  16. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    Doni, this is all SO true. I call the days when nothing happens ‘freebies’, and I celebrate (just inside my head, or maybe with a small glass of Chardonnay when I get home) every time I avoid a potential disaster. Two recent ones – tripping on way out of the gym and could’ve fallen face first on to the concrete steps, but didn’t, and changing lanes behind a car that decided to turn in exactly then, and could’ve hit it, but didn’t. Our days are filled with close misses that we never know about, and lives do change on a dime. Thank you for initiating this great conversation (as always).

    • Yes, indeed. Close misses … and lives DO change on a dime. The older I get, the more I see it.

      Here’s to more freebies!

      (So glad you didn’t fall on the concrete, and didn’t collide with the other car.)

  17. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    I try not to write about my real life but lately the gears have been shifting as quickly as yours, but I need to adjust my clutch to keep up.

  18. Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

    What a wonderful uplift to my day. I am having a wonderfully normal day, and hadn’t realized and celebrated it until I read your column. Thank you!