Surprise Training

When you say “Surprise!”, everyone reacts differently. For some, it is something nice to look forward to, for others it is an unpleasant experience, an uncontrollable element that breaks into your life. But one thing is always the same – it is not possible to train for it, because of the essence of its unpredictability. That is why we often find ourselves in situations where we are surprised, whether it is a good/bad grade at school, the unexpected behaviour of a person close to us or the loss of something important. And I’d like to talk a little bit about this last thing.

Like many, I have spent the last few months in isolation. In the beginning, it was a welcome change, because my life was completely shattered into columns in the diary and I was left with only small fragments for myself. Too little time to stop, count troops, lick wounds, or pat each other on the back. Although expressions borrowed from military jargon are constantly repeated in the media, my life “before” was a much bigger struggle: to get a grant, to plan a project, to write a report, to meet deadlines. … Just to play to win. I had received the grant, planned the project, written the report and met the deadlines. But suddenly there was a surprise, which actually may not have been so surprising, and the grant has been postponed indefinitely, the project participants somehow have had no way to participate, the report has had nowhere to be sent, and the deadlines have failed. And I was relieved. I have always hated the competitive system where only some achieve what is considered to be success. What about the others who may be smarter, more creative or more original? How can humanity benefit from a competition in which incomparable categories are compared? What is better “blue” or “a Tuesday”? And what will bring more benefits? “A three” or “a melody”? You might argue that when you possess “a three”, you don’t enter a singing competition. But the world does not have these neat partitions! A soprano who cannot sing C in three octaves will get nowhere. And Blue Skies by Ella Fitzgerald sounds as great on a Tuesday as on any other day, and it’s also a great melody, which I would enjoy playing three times in a row!

But back to those losses. Today, yesterday (which, by the way, was a Tuesday) and also a month ago, I have been experiencing such a strange surreal feeling, as if I have been frozen in the “surprise moment”. You see, I lost that drive to win. In the university workshop, there is a half-finished work for the exhibition which is currently taking place virtually. And my sister had still been planning to visit me in England before I moved out. She will not, or at least until my move. And the events I was supposed to attend were simply cancelled and will not happen at all. It is such an unexpected end of my plans. I have kept wondering what it has reminded me of. And today I figured it out: it’s like a death rehearsal. Suddenly, you do not finish what you planned, things happen without you, you cannot go home to visit your loved ones. … It may sound a little depressing, but it’s actually an opportunity. We know we are going to die, and yet we still put a lot of things off. So, let’s do things now. Sing a song, visit relatives – if you can or at least tell them you love them; do not put important things aside because of banalities. Right now, we all have experienced a little training for that “big final surprise”. We keep hearing “let’s not lose the advantage we have gained due to the quarantine”. And I conclude with “Amen.”

Written by Pavlína Kašparová, a doctoral student at ARU and MBIT