HAPPY ACCIDENTS

  • happy-accidents ACCIDENTS HAPPEN every day, from car crashes to mishaps in the kitchen. Most result in money spent, messes to clean, phone calls to make. But what about when those accidents lead to something unexpectedly good? Throughout history, humankind has stumbled along, bumping into innovation and breakthrough. For instance, popsicles happened because a boy forgot his drink outside in the cold. And while a Spanish military engineer looked for other ancient ruins, he found the ruins of Pompeii instead. Scotchgard? The result of spilt liquid on a shoe. Also consider that the discovery of penicillin only occurred because of a stray fungus in a lab—the Dead Sea Scrolls because of a stray goat in a desert.
  • happy-accidents WHAT DO WE MAKE of this series of wrong roads, risky decisions, and straight-up forgetfulness? Maybe we learn that sometimes life may take an unexpected turn, but it’s rarely a dead end. We put together this special section in hopes of making you smile, but also to inspire you to see your unwanted circumstances as an opportunity to be creative and continue on.
happy-accidents

BIG FISH

by Barnabas Piper
When I was about 10 years old, my family drove from Minnesota to Georgia to visit relatives. Somewhere in Indiana, our station wagon’s radiator blew up. There we were, stranded on the side of the interstate, in the middle of nowhere. There were no towns nearby, no hotels, and since it was Saturday, no mechanic shops were open. A few minutes later a truck pulled over, and an elderly gentleman in overalls got out. He strolled back to our car, heard my mom’s explanation, and said something utterly surprising.
“Well, y’all can stay with my wife and me on one condition: You have to join us for church.”
In one sentence he diminished my mom’s fears—he was a married churchgoing man. So we went to his farmhouse, where we met his lovely wife. That evening we found out he was a retired airline mechanic and would happily fix our car at no cost just as soon as he could get the parts.
He even gave me a fishing pole and pointed me to the cow pond in the back, where I reeled in an enormous catfish. I learned a lot that weekend about how God provides in surprising ways. And that catfish has only gotten bigger over the years.
happy-accidents

When the camper collapses

by MATT WOODLEY
It was the worst family camping trip ever. When the six of us took off in a borrowed and very rusty camper, we had no idea how much could go wrong. The hand-cranked pop-up mechanism kept popping up halfway and then crashing down on my head. Something in the food made me miserably nauseated. And just when the torrential rain and thunder rolled through about midnight, I started making mad dashes to the communal outhouse every 30 minutes.
On one of those visits, I noticed that a gaze of raccoons (yep, that’s the word for a bunch of them) had wandered into the extra tent we’d set up to store our food. I could see their arrogant, beady little eyes as they carefully unwrapped and casually ate all of our s’mores ingredients. When I tried to threaten them, they just smirked and seemed to say, “Hey, buddy, you mind? We’re eating here.” I finally chased them away, in the pouring rain, with sticks and stones and some bad words. My kids told me that it wasn’t very Francis of Assisi-like of me. The next day I was cold and sick and enraged at the raccoons, my head throbbed, the kids were cranky, and the camper still kept collapsing.
In my mind the whole trip was a disaster, but our kids can’t stop laughing and retelling the story of the crashing camper, the wild thunderstorm, the dashes to the outhouse, and dad’s crazy anti-raccoon rage—which is probably why every time I see a pop-up camper, I want to hit the road and do it all over again.
happy-accidents

O mio riomaggiore

by STEFANI McDADE
ASOUR TRAIN pulled up to the coastal village of Riomaggiore, Italy, I reached for my iPhone—before my brain reminded me I didn’t have it.
My trip through Europe had been like a poorly orchestrated symphony played without sheet music—and losing my phone in Rome was the final snap of a violin string. I had been wandering wide-eyed and open-mouthed towards the Fontana di Trevi one day, when my hungry hand reached for the device that stored my precious memories, only to grasp at air.
Sullen, I stepped off the train platform at my final destination. After making my way up a cobblestone street toward colorful homes nestled deep into the cliffside, I sat on a retaining wall and looked around. It was dusk, and the warm wind smelled of sweet earth and salty ocean. Behind me was a backyard, with a little lemon orchard right next to the laundry lines. The squatty trees were thick with giant, perfectly shaped lemons so vibrant they looked surreal.
I noticed a portly Italian man heading up the road toward me, carrying a large casserole dish. He stopped to knock on the door of a square pink house, where a woman greeted him with a bright smile. I became so absorbed in watching them embrace that I didn’t notice the smile forming on my own face.
It was an insignificant moment, ill-suited for an iPhone screen—not Instagram-worthy or eye-catching—but the realness of it drew me in. A scene I might have missed, had I merely been looking for the next photo op. And though I had been to dozens of places on that trip, it was the first time I arrived fully present.
happy-accidents

GOLD-MEDAL FINISH

by DEBBIE WAY PAULDING
Towns all over America host Resolution Run 5Ks on the first day of January as a way to start off the new year on the right shoe. Norcross 2012 was no different. As always, I was there and hoping to medal.
Several hundred participants toed the line in an industrial complex parking lot, eager to finish, if for no other reason than to get out of the bitter morning wind. I started with the front of the pack, kept a strong, steady pace for 3.1 miles, and sprinted the last 500 feet, passing half a dozen runners before dashing across the finish line. Bent at the waist in exhaustion and wiping the salty sweat from my forehead, I awaited the medal I’d imagined for my effort.
After enough time for the anticipation to grow, the adrenaline to subside, and the chill to return, the awards ceremony began. Upon hearing my name announced as third-place finisher, I squealed, rushed to the podium—and then stopped short. Looking awkwardly down at me from atop the podium were two women in my age group. I hesitated before joining them. Like the delayed response after a well-executed joke, it occurred to me that the awards ceremony didn’t include awards. Instead of a medal, we received a “Congratulations!” from the announcer.
Noticing my shrinking posture and half-opened mouth, second-place finisher Jodi introduced herself. We commiserated over splintered expectations, and her husband kindly offered to take our photo as something of a consolation prize. This led to the exchange of phone numbers and the budding of a great friendship. Jodi and I have now run dozens of races together, sharing our wins and losses (her father’s funeral and my melanoma scare), and the love and camaraderie that come from years of shared experiences. In lieu of some forgettable tin trophy, I won a gold-medal friend and confidant, a sound opinion to challenge mine, a mirror for my complacency, and a lifetime of memories—some yet to come.
happy-accidents

A CAPITOL GAIN

by JAMIE A. HUGHES
When I was 13 my family packed up and took the obligatory summer road trip to Washington, D.C. The goal? To see as many monuments and museums as possible. So we trudged from one site to another in the July heat, getting crabbier with each passing minute.
After the second long day of sightseeing, we slogged back to the car. Dad cranked the engine, and a loud bang rattled the hood. The pulley for the power steering pump had snapped off, so we called for a tow. After our poor hobbled Buick was dragged away, we headed to a rental lot to see if a new ride could be found. There were exactly three options: a box van, a dented tan subcompact, and a pearly white Chrysler LeBaron convertible. My mother, brother, and I—too wrung out and sore to bicker anymore—sat in the little patch of shade the building offered and waited for Dad to come out with the keys.
When he did, all three of us wordlessly headed for the beater. (We were a family on a tight budget, after all.) But Dad cleared his throat, shot us a what-kind-of-man-do-you-take-me-for? look, and pointed to the convertible. Fatigue and bellyaching forgotten, we jumped in the car and decided to tool around the city in our flashy new ride rather than head back to the motel. We saw all the sights in our nation’s capitol—this time with the wind in our hair and The Doobie Brothers on the radio. Family memories like this one aren’t on tourists’ maps. There’s no memorial built to commemorate such moments, and somehow, that makes them unforgettable.
happy-accidents

SING ME A SONG

by RACHEL MARIE STONE
Forty minutes into the six-hour drive north to Lake Malawi, smoke began snaking up from the engine, so my husband turned it off. We coasted straight into a little village. We might have broken down 15 minutes earlier or later, in an uninhabited and empty place. Or we might have simply made it to the lake without incident.
There in the mid-morning light was a shop by the edge of the road—a little concrete box selling snacks and Coke in glass bottles. Behind that, there were only houses, small and close to one another; outhouses; and “gardens”—the little plots of corn and tomatoes Malawians keep to feed themselves.
Our young boys settled on the steps of the shop to read. My mother and I sipped water, and Tim called the mechanic. They’d send someone to pick us up in the late afternoon. When the children began trickling back into the village from school, they gathered around us and stared at our boys. Our boys stared back. Then someone kicked over a “ball”—a mass of plastic grocery sacks ingeniously packed and tied—and a soccer game began. A smiling woman unrolled a straw mat, inviting us to sit. “Tell me a story?” a boy asked me. “Sing us a song?” a girl asked my mother. She sang, and then all the children sang. It was nothing we could have planned. It felt like a divine appointment. It was beautiful.
The mechanic arrived. We rode back home in his truck and made the journey up to the lake a few days later. When we passed through the village, we waved and called as if to friends old and dear.
happy-accidents

SMOOTH FAILING

by AMY HAYES
ThIS WAS NOT the peaceful river that had lulled me to sleep each night of my mission team’s stay in Jinja, Uganda.
“When we flip, don’t try to hold on to your oar or the boat,” our guide shouted over the roaring Nile. “Just try to keep your head above water because this rapid can put you under for awhile.”
Ten seconds later, our boat flipped, and I hit the water back-first. The current immediately stripped me of my helmet, oar, and the hope that I’d ever breathe again.
I felt something around my ankles that made my oxygen-deprived heart stop: my shorts. Pink nylon running shorts that I’d specifically worn because they’re the kind with built-in underwear.
God, You had better let me die if I lose my shorts. Because I won’t get back in that boat half naked.
Impending humiliation has a way of galvanizing one to do the impossible. Somehow, in the midst of that Class VI rapid, I grasped my shorts and yanked them to my waist. Moments later I surfaced in calmer water where a kayaker rescued me.
As the only raft to flip in that rapid, we had to endure the taunts of our drier comrades. But if success meant staying upright, then I’m glad we failed. There is no narrative in perfection, and stories worth telling always cost us something—comfort, control, security. Or possibly our shorts.