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Choosing Either Truth or Happiness: Learning from the Unexpected

Life is full of unplanned situations that rattle us and change us forever. A car wreck might be the fault of another person, but the unlucky victim dies. A word is uttered that breaks up a long-term relationship. Awkwardness abounds in a conversation, and we cannot do anything about it. We have a phrase for this: “Wrong place at the wrong time.”

We consider that these moments touch us as incongruous, as outliers from the norm. In fact, the unplanned, which takes us outside of everyday selves, give us a taste of truth, and the truth is often painful.

Once, I drove home a neighborhood boy in high school. Reacting to a comment that only a strongly insecure person could perceive as a slight, like “How was school today?” he smacked me in the back of the head as I drove; I can’t remember the exact comment, but it wasn’t a put-down at all. My brother and I were surprised. “What the F?” I said.

For some reason I did not stop the car right there. There must have been some words exchanged on the way home, but when we got to Jared’s house, I remember a parting put-down: “See you later, Jay-rod, you loser, and say ‘hi’ to your slut sister.” Jared was in special education because of his frequent epileptic seizures and seemed to spend his life alone and depressed. The butt of many jokes, the boys in his class, two years above mine, called him “Jay-Rod,” a name he hated (which I had never used before).

For a long time, my brother Paul blamed me for the event. “He didn’t want a ride,” he said. That was true, but I felt like giving a ride because that day my father had let me take his nice white Lexus sedan to school. However, I was not at fault for Jared smacking me in the back of the head without any warning.

Now, the event by no means made me happy. I would have just have easily not given him a ride, and no unexpected circumstance would have come about. But in a way, I benefited from him hitting me in the head. At that moment, I saw his daily pain and humiliation, while I didn’t get hurt at all. Essentially, I could have been happy that day, but instead I learned something: feel out interaction with other people. Jared didn’t want a ride, and he was uncomfortable in the car; these things I knew.

Perceive what other people are projecting, and react off that. Live life without fearing pure evil from people, like getting shot in the back of the head randomly—that doesn’t happen much at all, even in war. As Bob Dylan writes, “I can handle the situation / right down to the bone.” Jared’s smacking me in the head taught me that with the proper perception, one can expect the unexpected. The dog projects whether she wants to be petted or not, and gives signs for both. People work the same way—perceive the truth of body language and you’ll be better for it.

 
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