Happy New Year to all our readers! My apologies for the unpredictable arrival of the Lambent Letter before Christmas, this was due to a lot of travel and time zone hopping. Christmas and new year were a holiday, and a very enjoyable one. And….as it is new year, how about new year’s resolutions? Well, you will be glad to hear I will resist the temptation to devote this letter to the futility/importance/success/failure of new year’s resolutions, and would like to talk instead about the unexpected.
When I was a kid at Christmas, my parents would leave an empty place set at the dinner table at Christmas for the unexpected guest. Knife, fork and napkin were set, and the chair ready, in case someone called. My mother would make slightly too much food for the family to comfortably eat. This place for the ‘unexpected guest’ is an old Irish custom, (still prevalent in parts of Ireland), where it is possible a weary traveller might knock on your door looking for some shelter. And the Irish, being one of the most hospitable people on earth, want to offer more than just shelter from the rain. I didn’t really understand the idea when I was a kid, it seemed nice but pointless, and as far as I remember we never had any unexpected guests, so what was the deal? Still, the memory comes back to me every Christmas.
It is a generous thought to provide for the possibility of a guest, and to want to have a guest to share the food. At a deeper level I see this as an openness for the unexpected. It is interesting that when I Googled ‘unexpected guest’, the hits I got were mostly for something scary, as if an unexpected guest was a bad thing, and of course there is a famous murder mystery by Agatha Christie called ‘The unexpected guest’.
The word ‘expect’ is derived from ‘ex’, meaning ‘before’, and ‘spect’ meaning ‘see’, so some thing is expected if you have seen it before, and unexpected if you have not. How boring if we have seen everything before! The ultimate boring existence, yawn, been there, done that.
Thank goodness the unexpected happens all the time. We cannot predict what happens from one minute to the next, there is always the possibility for surprise. Life would be intolerable if this were not so.
Yet we spend a lot of time, effort and energy trying to control our environment, shutting out the possibility of the unexpected as if it were to be feared like an intruder. What distinguishes a guest from an intruder is the attitude with which you meet them (always providing they do not intend to cause to harm). A guest is not an intruder, quite the opposite, they are welcomed.
When the unexpected does come, we often try to minimise it, and we do this in two ways: ’I knew it anyway’ and if this does not work, then we fall back on, ‘Well, anyway, it’s not important’. This is a pity, as an unexpected opportunity might go to waste.
So welcome the unexpected guest, there are many out there, waiting for a chance to come in. They have interesting and wonderful stories to tell, and might give you the idea for a new adventure. Have a place at your mental table for them so you can hear their travellers’ tales. As coaches, if we do this ourselves, we will be able to help our clients see the possibilities in their experience, there is a new year starting every day.