Thursday, March 25, 2010

Licorice In My Pocket

Not all surprises in life are welcome, which makes it even more delightful when you stumble across an unexpected treat. Yesterday, I reached in my coat pocket for my car keys (as I finished a slew of errands, including trips to the bank, the doctor and the orthodontist), and found a piece of gourmet black licorice wrapped in a paper towel, that I'd grabbed on my way out the door to reward myself for running all those errands. I'd forgotten all about it, and as I popped the licorice in my mouth I couldn't help smiling - and thinking about all those other times we get fun little treats. About once every couple of months, I come across cash in my pants pocket, and once I got a lovely reward for cleaning out my closet when I found a pair of terrific shoes I'd gotten on sale and then misplaced. And I love those times where I thought I had an appointment and didn't, so I end up with an unexpected chunk of time off.

But a lovely surprise doesn't have to involve money or accessories - sometimes all it takes is an unexpected facebook message from an old friend, a song you love coming up on the radio, or a really good New Yorker cartoon. Your husband brings you flowers 'just because', your kid does dishes without being reminded, you get a back-ordered mail order package you'd completely forgotten about. The other day I was stuck in rainy-day traffic when I spotted a rainbow, which I got to enjoy more than usual because of the traffic I would have otherwise cursed.

One thing about surprises is that you can't plan them for yourself, you just have to be open to noticing them, and able to appreciate small pleasures. But appreciating the value of a nice surprise makes it fun to plan them for other people - picking up your husband's favorite snack, leaving a friend a fun voice mail message, serving the kids milk in wine glasses to make dinner seem special.

And little treats are so subjective - one friend might love it when you surprise her with chocolate, another might prefer a live plant. (Like one of my favorites - black licorice gets people more polarized than health care, they either love it or hate it. I love the sweet-hot spiciness, plus it also has that Proust's madeline quality, of reminding me so strongly of the Good 'n' Plenty I loved as a kid. Fortunately, I'm the only one in my family that likes it, so when I indulge in the good kind, I can make it last! )

But I think what I love more about surprise treats is that they're actually a reward for absent-mindedness. (Which I prefer to think of as 'my hard drive is too full'.) Instead of cursing myself for misplacing new shoes or forgetting about cancelled appointments, I can enjoy the surprise I inadvertently created. And when I'm more on top of things and not getting those unexpected treats, I can always buy some licorice, browse the New Yorker cartoons I've collected, or hope my husband got the hint about the flowers!

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