Every new year begins with the first of 365 (or 366) unpredictable days. As the venerable Forrest Gump frequently said, “Momma always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” In fact, life is considerably less predictable in many ways than a box of candy.
An infant experiences simple routines right out of the womb. She begins life in a sterile environment, with one or more caregivers charged with maintaining cleanliness in the environment and taking steps to ensure good hygiene for the vulnerable little human being. Meal times and the bath schedule are relatively predictable. Becoming familiar with the schedule will help her as she grows into a healthy toddler, then child, adolescent and adult.
Alas, life isn’t totally predictable even for an infant. Illness and disease -— sometimes very serious —- creep up with alarming speed. Some infants come into this world with physical or developmental challenges. The youngest and smallest among us sometimes face significant challenges right out of the gate.
The nature of life is that it unfolds. While books proliferate on dealing with human problems at about every age, maternity wards and birthing rooms do not come equipped with diaries prepared in advance for each newborn. It is impossible to look ahead to catch a glimpse of a child’s challenges, successes, failures, joys and pain with certainty. Neither are crystal balls standard issue.
Figuratively speaking, each person simply comes with his own box of chocolates. In life, you never know what you’re gonna get or what may come your way in a given day, week, month, year or life stage.
Early in life, healthy children take on more and more personal decision-making, progressing with choices as simple as which shirt or outfit to wear, food preferences, play activities and the like. As autonomy increases, choices become harder and more serious.
Children are taught that wise choices increase the potential of joy and fulfillment in life and that poor choices can lead to unhappiness, disappointment, pain and hurt —- for the individual and those around her. Sometimes people face critical decisions with little or no warning and often with limited preparation.
Adolescents discover increasing complexity in life as they grow toward adulthood. Expectations increase into young adulthood and beyond. Adults discover that they were wise if they listened along the way and incorporated the best advice and training from their earliest days. The reality is that for most people, learning continues throughout life.
Naturally, unpredictability and uncertainty help make life difficult at times. But without those aspects, there would be no surprises. Some surprises are tough experiences to be sure, but others are sheer joy. That’s the texture of life.
People cross our paths who challenge us to stand firm, resist evil, be honest, help the less fortunate, mentor others, encourage others to rise to their potential, make an initial or renewed commitment to God, take risks and thousands of other things.
Much of life is readily predictable, of course, like death and taxes. We rise at a reasonable time because we are expected at work, and students learn early on that they had better be seated in class when the first bell rings.
A few of the unexpected experiences of life are calamities like major health crises, loss of jobs or unanticipated deaths of loved ones. But most happen more quietly at the rate of one or more a day within the parameters of the expected.
Most married men and women remember the moment when they first laid eyes on their spouse-to-be or at least first realized this was “the one.” We also remember the mini-crisis that we worked though and the joy that came after dealing with it.
The issue isn’t that life brings unexpected events and circumstances to people. Real life happens to us all. The challenge for every person is to respond appropriately to these things, whether we initially perceive them as threatening or welcome events.
We were created to deal with the ebb and flow of life. In the “old days,” parents would send us out on dates with the stern reminder, “Remember who you are.” That meant not to do anything that would bring dishonor on the family name.
It works the other way, too. Live in such a way as to maintain the respect of your children, grandchildren and others. Let your example and demeanor guide them. For people of faith, seek God’s help and honor him. And remember, this new year is a gift. God bless you.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.