Can We Allow Ourselves to Be Surprised?

A Sunday Reflection:

I have no need to sugarcoat this time we are living right now… This is a time of deep grief.

During this time of pandemic, separation from one another, and huge forms of disruption, we’re living a time of grief, and that grief cries out to be acknowledged. Sometimes, it literally cries out… We cry it out. We might close a door to a room or get in the bathtub and weep in catharsis. Have you had a moment like that? I have.

Or we might have moments of experiencing the Grief Ninjas. That’s what a friend of mine calls them. We’re just going about our business, doing something run-of-the-mill or routine, and boom. Something reminds us of a person or opportunity we’ve lost, and the Grief Ninjas suddenly do a surprise attack. We’re suddenly and surprisingly in tears.

Or we might have moments of feeling nothing. We feel so much internally that we are flooded with emotion, and our bodies have learned to cope with this by numbing. We feel nothing, even when we’d like to feel something — anything. This is called dissociation. It’s the freeze pathway of the trauma response — fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. And though it might seem like it would be nice to feel nothing during a crisis, it’s actually really painful. It’s disorienting. And as Brene Brown says, “You can’t selectively numb feelings.” We begin to feel detached from our good, pleasant, and meaningful emotions too.

So with all of this, I have no need to sugarcoat this time we’re living. There’s no need to assign silver linings to it. If we need to name that this is painful, we can. We can allow ourselves to feel whatever we need to feel.

So I want to name this before I say anything else. In a moment, I’m going to bring a question to us — to all of us, and myself, included. This question is not a “But.” It’s an “And.”

“Can we allow ourselves to be surprised?” That’s the question.

That’s an And. We might even say it’s a “Yes-And.”

“Yes-And” is a fundamental premise of improv. Have you ever seen a group of people do improv games or improv comedy? Or have you ever tried it? You don’t have to be utterly brilliant, an accomplished actor, or remarkably funny to do improv. You just have to “Yes-And.” Someone presents a scenario or character to you. It emerges from the moment. And having entered this scene, you say “yes” to it. You accept it. And — there’s that word “And” — you add to it. You add yourself, or another aspect of the scenario, or you move the storyline forward.

We are in a time of grief. Yes. No doubt.


And? What would you say? What might you add?

So back to my question: Can we allow ourselves to be surprised?

Without sugarcoating things, or assigning silver linings, can we allow ourselves to be surprised that goodness often comes right alongside all the pain and that it accompanies us too? Can we be surprised by all the forms of goodness that emerge alongside all of that valid grief and pain?

I’m touched by people applauding hospital workers from their high rise apartments every time a shift ends and a new one begins. I hope you’ve had the occasion to see some videos like that.

I’m touched by neighbors checking in on each other.

I’m touched by the person who sent me coloring sheets in the mail, allowing me to color yesterday while watching “I, Tonya.” Maybe that’s a weird combo. But you know? It was fun.

I’m touched that over the last six weeks, I’ve had the occasion to introduce people to each other on Zoom, and now, they are checking in on each other. Some of them haven’t even met in person.

I’m touched that my former college students check on me all the time. My life is totally blessed by them. I mean it. It is abundance to me. Among all the other things, I love that some of them watch tv with me. We sync up shows and chat in real time.

I’m touched that people are using their brilliance to take care of people in their community — just by being themselves. I see so many of you utilizing the talents and skills that come so naturally to you that they might forget they’re a remarkable talent or skill. They’re just that natural to you. And they are remarkable. You’re remarkable. And you’re providing for community from yourselves. I love seeing this.

In all of these, and in so many other moments, I feel the surprise of goodness. And I hope you feel alive when you are surprised by them too.

About five years ago, I started a blog that I titled “Smuggling Grace.” I hoped to find moments where grace, love, and sacred possibility just sort of snuck into our world, maybe even during times of challenge, trauma, or pain. I love to seek out these moments and write them in story form. On my blog, I notice that I write about a lot of topics and in a lot of genres, but I think that’s my primary one — finding some grace to smuggle in, not that it needs a storyteller as much as it needs to be experienced. We all have moments like this, when grace is smuggled to us. We don’t expect it, and sometimes, it’s remarkably surprising. Then we get to smuggle that same energy toward others. We smuggle it forward. We can all be Grace Smugglers.

Can we allow ourselves to be surprised?

I hope so. It doesn’t negate the grief. But it accompanies us.

And who knows? In these days, maybe we can be surprises ourselves, participating in goodness and sharing it — smuggling it — to others.

Peace to you.
Grace to you.
to you,
toward you,
from you.


Renee Roederer


2 thoughts on “Can We Allow Ourselves to Be Surprised?

  1. Renee, many years ago the great British Psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott commented that unless we are able to surprise ourselves we will never become creative.


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