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Peacock Pansy, Burdwan, West Bengal, India 31 01 2013.jpg

An unexpected life. Is there any other kind, when you really think about it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about those parts of life that just seem to sneak up on us – and at other times land smack dab in front of us, as if carried to mission success by an eagle-eyed paratrooper.

Sometimes it’s something wonderful, a gift from the heavens perhaps. Like meeting your beloved life partner while waiting for a slow elevator.

But sometimes not-so-great things come to us – things that are not at all what we expected, and most definitely not in our control. Things we would never choose in an idealized life. Things we wish would just go away, so we won’t have to deal with them. And yet there they are, staring us in the face, daring us to act…or not.

A woman I know came to me for advice today. Some new neighbors moved in, people who seem very nice, but whose dog goes into 10-minute barking jags in the afternoon when he’s alone in the apartment – exactly when my friend is home on days she is off. And the doggone dog does his doggone dogged barking right up against the door, which is only a few feet from my friend’s door.

She’s outraged because she’s lived there for over 20 years and has never had to deal with neighbor noise.  She doesn’t even have street noise, since her apartment faces the courtyard. And now, at least 2 or three times in the afternoon, the dog’s bark disrupts her relaxation time. And it’s starting to eat at her peace of mind. Why should she have to accept this when it never was that way before? It just feels wrong to her. And unfair.

On the other hand, she has a New York City apartment and has never had to deal with noise from neighbors. Never! Only a New Yorker would know how amazing that is, at least for the vast majority of us.  (I’ve sure had my own share to deal with.)

And when I asked her if maybe she could turn on a sound machine or simply use her remote control to turn the TV up louder during those times (my usual allies in the fight against external noise), she said “yes”. In fact, she said it would be pretty easy. It’s just not what she wants to do nor how she wants to live. She never expected this. She doesn’t want it to be this way.

When the unexpected plops into our lives, how do we know what to rail against and what to accept? How do we recognize those times when it’s just a matter of adjusting our own controls to a new level? And how many times do we have to adjust before we know that more direct action is needed?

What if Life Takes a More Serious Turn?

Not that apartment noise isn’t maddening, but I know quite a few people who, with little if any warning, have had serious health issues thrust smack dab into their lives, dramatically shifting expectations – and any picture they had of what life is and what it will continue to be for them.

How do you make peace with that? You can’t just turn up the volume on your TV. Ground-shaking changes like these take an entire re-framing of what life is, and who you are within this thing called life. And also, a whole new discovery of who you really are, despite and even as a result of what life has handed you.

Sometimes the best we can do is savor the moments. As humans on this earth, the one thing we know for sure is that the life we didn’t expect is coming, one way or another. And all we can control for sure is how we deal with the change. And how not to let what’s wrong lead, finding joy instead, at least to the best of our abilities, in what life so generously still has to offer.

As for me…I’m still working on it. Meanwhile, I have my trusty remote control close by – just in case.