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Planned Serendipity?

 

This post is dedicated to the memory of my wonderful father, Joseph Culotta, who passed away on August 1, 2016.

Blog Post #43

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ser·en·dip·i·ty

ˌserənˈdipədē/

noun

 1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

 My First Blog Post EVER!

There are certain serendipitous scenarios that you just can’t set up in advance, no matter how much scheming you do, nor how badly you want things to turn out exactly as you imagine them. In fact, to “set up,” scheme, or plan anything is the antithesis of serendipity, because serendipity, by definition, involves chance.

 

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My father, Joseph Culotta, Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class, United States Naval Air,           1942-1946

My father, the late Joseph Culotta, served as a naval photographer in World War II. He attended the Naval Training School of Photography in Pensacola, Florida where he labored to memorize all that was required for his area of expertise.  He developed a strong habit of memorization starting at an early age. (See blog post #2 “The True Measure of a Man.”) While stationed at the Naval Air Station in Bermuda, he spent much of his free time in the library memorizing poetry.

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After the war ended, my father (“Daddy”) went on a road trip with friends. Evening approached, and one of the other passengers—looking for an opportunity to show-off—pointed out the setting sun off in the western sky and asked if any of the other fellows in the car (including my father) knew what “refraction” was. At first, Daddy acted as if he didn’t know anything about it (his photography training eagerly churning in the back of his mind). Just as the other guy opened his mouth to enlighten everyone about refraction as it related to the setting sun, word-for-word Daddy interjected the following. “Oh.…you mean ‘the deflection of a ray of light upon entering a transparent medium at an oblique angle, or bending of light when passing from one medium to another of different density?’” He recited this (as he later did countless times throughout his lifetime) with the same uninterrupted, rote speed and tonal quality characteristic of something entirely ingrained in one’s memory.

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Daddy’s notes on Refraction from his photo school journal .

The man was so surprised by Daddy’s impromptu recitation he begged to know how my father did that! When Daddy explained he had memorized that definition while in Naval Photography School, the man decided he wanted to choose the definition of a word to memorize so he could pull that on someone else. The man chose “viscosity” as his word. My father told us later that he thought the circumstances were too unusual for a similar opportunity to arise like that again. He felt that his traveling companion would be disappointed in his scheme, because you couldn’t hope to plan for that kind of serendipitous stunt. Happily, for my father the stars had aligned and he had taken advantage of that unique set of circumstances.

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Daddy in his convertible after the war

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It is this unique set of circumstances to which I refer when I said that you cannot set-up in advance certain scenarios—no matter how much scheming you do. I believe there’s truth in the phrase, “The best laid plans … often go awry!” (Robert Burns)

Many years ago, my family of seven (my husband, Brad, our five children, and I) were on a road trip together with my sister, Karen, and her six children.  We drove two vehicles, one of which was a truck pulling a fifth wheel trailer, and the other, a large van with three rows of benches and two front seats. The eleven children took turns riding in the cab of the truck with Brad, but mostly the two eldest children (my daughter, Thalia, and my sister’s daughter, Bridey) claimed that privilege. The rest of us were crammed in Karen’s big blue van, appropriately named “Big Uggs.”

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A small portion of the family piling into “Big Uggs”

One of the stops on our trip was the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. My sister had been there before, and had a vivid memory of rounding a bend and seeing those magnificent mountains suddenly appear before her eyes. Completely moved by that experience, she wanted to recreate the same inspirational effect for the children (and for me). To add to the effect, we chose to play music that would build and climax at the precise moment when the mountains appeared like a vision before our eyes. (Just the way it always happens in the movies.) The main theme in the soundtrack to the movie, “The Man from Snowy River,” was our music of choice. (I should probably add that this was during the days prior to compact discs, MP3 players, or Bluetooth connections. Cassette tapes had to be re-wound or fast-forwarded—like a video tape—to find the desired location. Unless you had a counter on your machine, you had no idea where to stop the tape to find the song you wanted.)

 

There we were, driving along, following a map, (no GPS in those days, either), and as we approached a bend in the road at the approximate location we thought the mountain range would appear, we’d call out to the children to “Look!” Quickly we rewound the tape,—the  violins building in crescendo to a fever pitch, the French horns ready to signal,—and as we rounded the bend…..nothing. No mountains. Just more road and more of the same scenery on both sides of the road. “Quick! Stop the tape!” one of us would call out. We rewound again, preparing for the next bend in the road —the correct bend.

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This is what we expected to see around the bend: The Snake River with the Grand Tetons in the background.

And another bend soon came! Again, we called to the children, the tape went on—violins building toward the magnificent view. And….nothing. We repeated this scenario perhaps a half-dozen times or more. We heard those violins brace themselves for the climax over and over again (we became quite intuitive as to when to stop rewinding the tape at the perfect place).

Finally, after rounding every bend, the Tetons appeared way off in the distance, like piles of small, jagged rocks, gradually growing larger as we bridged the miles that spanned the distance between us. It was as opposite an experience from that imagined as possible. We let the rest of the tape play out. After the second or third “Look!” the children had tuned us out anyway.

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Although I can’t remember now, this is probably more like what we saw (which, granted, is still absolutely MAGNIFICENT!)

At last, Karen concluded that her initial introduction to the Tetons must have come from a different direction or perhaps from a different road (possibly because she had flown into the area and had arrived in a shuttle). We had to resign ourselves to having made a valiant attempt on behalf of our children—all of whom sat obliviously happy in the back seats (drawing, laughing, talking, singing, and playing together) totally unaware of our desire for them  to regard, with breathless anticipation, the experience we had attempted to orchestrate…that never happened.

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What we envisioned seeing (even though it was long before sunset).

 

Countless are the times I’ve tried to rehearse exactly the right thing to say or do only to have it completely backfire on me. I might lay the blame on my inability to predict the reactions of others, my ignorance of human nature, or my failure to be poised for action at the moment when the stars align.  As I ponder this enigma, I think it all boils down to the idea that you simply can’t plan for unique events that appear like bursts of serendipity sent down from above.

However, I do believe it is completely possible for one to plan and create moments that are special—that are beautiful, touching, emotionally charged (in a good way), and that may be remembered for a lifetime. It takes thought, planning, effort, presence, and a smattering of joy to create an enchanting moment, be it a dinner with friends, a wedding or birthday celebration, a community event, or even more beautiful–a special moment with a child.

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Still, I think you cannot re-create, or manufacture, unique moments that first occur as serendipitous, once-in-a-lifetime occasions. When the stars align, when the heavens open, and when your life preparation unites with the moment, that’s the time to be grateful you were at the right place at the right time.

One more thought….which may shoot down the entire premise of this post.  As I think about that little scheme we set-up during our trip to the Tetons, it was, in its own way, a serendipitous event. We didn’t achieve the desired result, but our bumbling attempt to create a stirring, unforgettable moment was, in many respects, achieved.  The outcome was, in its own right, something we’ve remembered and laughed about for years on end. And isn’t that, in itself a unique little bit of serendipity?

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This photo shows a few members of our family rafting on the Snake River together. The others are in the part of the raft you can’t see.  (That’s me in the back on the left.) You can see the Tetons in the background. 

I’ll leave you to sort this all out. Obviously, I haven’t succeeded.

I sincerely hope you are able to find serendipitous joy when your schemes to create or recreate some wonderful event turn out differently than you had, at first, hoped. If you were chasing rainbows, and found one that was upside down …. well, what could be more serendipitous than discovering a giant smile in the sky?

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An upside-down rainbow (circumzenithal arc)

My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© September 6, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

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It’s About Time

Blog Post #26 

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(*Originally written March 29, 2015)

Last night, I discovered I had allowed my domain account to expire. This means that my blog disappeared. I called my excellent blog savvy daughter for help (she helped me set it up in the beginning) and through her instruction got the domain reinstated. However, this morning, when I checked my blog, it was still gone. Feeling a little panicked, I called my daughter again. She began the task of trying to get my blog platform back on track.

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My daughter has a busy life, and already spends a great deal of time dealing with internet/computer issues. I felt terrible taking up so much of her time trying to fix my problem. I might have sidestepped this puddle of problems if I had had more foresight. It bothers me to think of the time she has been wasting on my account.

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In contemplating this, I began to think about Time, and why I hate to see Time wasted. What is time, anyway? It is something elusive and intangible, and yet can be such a taskmaster. It drives us out of bed in the morning, dictates meals, events, chores, and other activities, commands punctuality, but begs for relaxation, and may even wake us from a sound sleep in the middle of the night worrying about meeting its demands later on.

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We willingly submit to Time’s regimentation, too. By choice, we invite Time to control our very existence in offensive ways. For example, we set clocks—sometimes, right next to our heads—to blast annoyingly loud and obnoxious sounds at ridiculous hours to startle us out of bed. We wear Time as jewelry, or as part of our clothing ensemble, to carry its nagging influence with us every waking hour. We even place large timepieces in conspicuous places in every venue we visit to remind us who, or more aptly, what is in charge. For it is Time that people rush to meet, check on to stay within obscure but rigid bounds, and that tells us when we can take a break. We are literal slaves to Time.

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So what is Time? It’s one of the most difficult things to define and capture. It has no substance, no shape, no mass, nor profile. It cannot be visualized except by how it relates to things that happen during its reign. A timeline depicts key events occurring during Time’s tenure, but it does little to help us understand the true nature of Time itself, except to point out that it exists—you guessed it!—throughout the span of TIME! Yes, for millennia, mankind has bowed to its strict dictatorship, without ever catching hold of what it is.

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Interestingly enough, for all the things Time isn’t, there is one thing Time is: Time is measureable. We can calculate how much we need, how much we’ve used, how much is left, and how long till we press the “reset” button to have another chunk of Time to use or waste as we see fit.

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For me, it is a rare and precious commodity. I have been known to hoard it. I have often wished for more of it, but it is extremely stingy and precise. It gives the same to everyone—be they king, peasant, homemaker, or businessman. It matters not where on the globe you live, or how rich or poor you are. It treats all people—young and old—with the same tacit economy. Either you adhere to its dictates, or you live the life of a vegetable. Ha! Even a vegetable bows to Time—for vegetables grow and change and decay, and growth and change of any kind need Time in order to occur.

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What of wasting Time? I detest the thought of it. What do you consider wasted time? I have a long list of things that fit into that category. Some of the things I might consider a waste of Time, you might find valuable and high on your list of worthy uses of Time. It is a personal thing. It can be hard to define. On any given day, something you once considered a total waste of Time may become of great value, and on another day, it may be the opposite. Through the lens of Time, things can become distorted, or possibly, more distinct and accurate. Priorities shift, bow, and adjust to Time’s influence.

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An ever-changing spectrum of activities spins round us on a daily basis—one eternal round of things to be done that take up a tidbit of Time here, a boatload of Time there—taking more Time or less Time than is adequate or desired. Even things done routinely may be categorized as requiring more of our precious Time than is truly needed. Take, for example, dishes, meal preparation, and laundry. They make their appearances in a routine fashion—day after day—to the point of becoming a burden or a nuisance to many. They hover there in the vacuum of Time while we try to wish them away. Thinking about them may take more Time than actually doing them, making Time deceitfully cunning at stealing away Time from the unwary, or more especially, from the Procrastinator. (A Procrastinator is Time’s evil twin incarnate.) If we “time” how long it really takes to clean a meal’s worth of dishes, we may find it only takes a matter of minutes, whereas the Time spent dreading and thinking about the chore may eat up hours.  

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Wasting Time can be a stress inducer. It can cause an otherwise sane person to have bouts of temporary insanity. An example of this it when one wakes up with a list of  pertinent “to dos,” but fills the early morning hours sitting at the computer dillydallying with social media, instead of effectively knocking off things on the list. Another example might be when one gets sidetracked by a box of old school memorabilia when one intended to clean the closet in which said memorabilia was found. By chance, one looks up at the (ever nagging, blatantly scolding) clock, and notices hours have passed, and that in thirteen short minutes one is supposed to be showered, dressed, and out the door for an important engagement! One suddenly moves from a state of relaxed euphoria to a panic-stricken maniac! Suddenly, everyone and everything in one’s way is at fault, and an obstacle to one’s top priority—being On Time!

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This is not one of my time wasting issues. I learned my lesson about wasting time in that manner a long, long time ago.  I trifle more with Time at a different level. I try to outsmart it. I lie in bed of a morning, after watching the clock every hour on the hour to make sure I don’t oversleep, and bargain with Time: “If you will give me fifteen minutes more to sleep, I will make it up later on by going to bed fifteen minutes earlier.”    Or “If you will make this hour that I need to get ready for company go by at a slower pace, I won’t complain about the slow hour spent in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.” (Only sometimes, I still complain.)

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Ah, such are the lengths some of us go to try to manipulate Time, all the while knowing, deep down, that Time is staunchly unwavering. It is as constant and consistent as the rising of the sun. And aren’t we grateful for that? For how would it be if we couldn’t depend on the very seconds, minutes and hours of life to mark out their space exactly as they do? We would be like a child at the beach, ever chasing the waves lapping the shore—in and out, back and forth—never exactly knowing which wave will overlap another, pulling and tugging and catching our toes unaware, ever knocking down the sandcastle plans of our lives.

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For Time, all are “created equal,” and this is a blessing. No one can gain the advantage over another by having less or more of it, or of moving within it more quickly, or more slowly. No one can travel back in time, or into the future. It is fortunate, indeed, that no one can tamper with time, wreaking havoc on the lives of innocent people and creating immeasurable chaos. Time is an “equal opportunity employer,”—how we choose to use the Time given us is what matters. Those who squander it will never be able to make up for that which they lose.  Those who respect it, using it carefully, prayerfully, and wisely will be able to look back on their Time without regret.

How I wish I had taken the time to keep my blog domain up to date. I currently wouldn’t be suspended in time—waiting to post this to my blog. It is a lesson well learned. I grew up with the saying:  A stitch in time saves nine. I have supposed this meant that if one made the required stitch when a hole first appears in a garment, one would save nine extra back-pedaling stitches to repair a larger hole. (Sadly, I have experience with this.) I would like to translate this saying as meaning: taking appropriate action at the appropriate Time will save nine minutes, nine hours, nine days, or maybe nine years.

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This has long been a favorite poem of mine. It is taken from a Time marker—a sundial—at Wells College, and was penned by Henry Van Dyke.  I share it with you as a last, profoundly accurate statement on Time:

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The shadow by my finger cast
Divides the future from the past:
Before it, sleeps the unborn hour
In darkness, and beyond thy power:
Behind its unreturning line,
The vanished hour, no longer thine:
One hour alone is in thy hands,–
The NOW on which the shadow stands. ”

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*I am happy to report that all issues with my blog are now resolved, thanks to my very capable daughter, Thalia.

You may have noticed the new platform for, and format of my blog. A little change now and then can be a good thing.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

End Piece

© April 9, 2015