January 20 , 2024 /


  • I shared some bits in this blog previously, notably in ‘Life, Death and In Between” published December 11, 2023.


There are glad surprises and sad surprises.  This post is mostly about ones that are sad, so I promise that the next post will be about glad surprises.  The reality is that life is full of both kinds although it may seem like sad surprises leave a bigger or more lasting impression than the glad ones.  I will ponder that a little longer, later.


Appointment in Samarra is the 1934 novel by John O’Hara that he loosely based on a story told in W. Somerset Maugham’s play Sheppey. In Maugham’s play, the servant of a rich merchant in Baghdad travels to the market and meets Death.  The servant believes that Death makes a threatening gesture toward him and is scared.  So, he rushes home and asks his master to borrow his fastest horse so he can ride away from Death to a distant city far away, Samarra . The master, upset about losing his best servant, and horse, returns to the market and admonishes Death for making such a gesture toward his servant. Death then explains that she was not threatening the servant. Death was shocked and surprised to see the servant at the market when she knew she had an appointment with the servant the next day in Samarra.

The point of the story is that we all have an appointment with Death. We know that is true. We know that life is uncertain and, unpredictable. We know it can change suddenly. We may or may not see it coming.  Consider parents who have lost a child by any means, whether by accident, a gunshot or a disease and whether or not they saw it coming. Probably not. I knew a couple with three young children all of whom were killed on July 17, 1967 while riding in a car with a neighbor to get an ice cream cone.  The mother was told that because of her diabetes she should not have more children.  She and her husband had two more children and they referred to their first three children as their first family.

All you have to do is to recall events such as Sept 11, 2001 when 3,000 people were killed. None of us saw it coming.   Or remember when a beloved family member or close friend died. My Dad died suddenly in 1979 at age 67. I was 42 and I am now 86 with progressive heart disease but because of advances in cardiology and medical technology, I’ve been granted a few extra years. In a different scenario, I got a surprise phone call from a friend in December of 2022 asking me if I would speak at his funeral. I said yes, of course, I was honored to be invited.  He and I both knew he was dying and he had been suffering and in pain for over two years.  He died on February 2, 2023 and the service to celebrate his life was February 25 in Dallas.

Morgan Housel in his book, Same As Ever: A Guide To What Never Changes, tells the story about himself and two friends, all three of whom were highly skilled ski racers.  They loved the sport and traveled a lot to ski.  It had snowed so much in Tahoe that with all the fresh powder, conditions for downhill racing were impossible. However, Morgan and his two friends, Bryan and Brendan, decided to go skiing anyway on the backside of Squaw Valley in an area now called Palisades Tahoe. It was closed but they ducked under the tape and down they went.  There was an avalanche and the three of them were covered with deep snow and survived. Brendan and Bryan wanted to do it again and Morgan opted out. He doesn’t know why and says he never will.  As you might suspect, there was another avalanche, a much bigger one and both Brendan and Bryan were killed on that February 21, 2001.  A moment in time can change someone’s life forever.

The third chapter in Morgan’s book is titled “Risk Is What You Don’t See”  The subtitle is “We are very good at predicting the future except for the surprises– which tend to be all that matters.”  I was driving home from college in 1956, late Friday afternoon for a weekend home and a date with my girlfriend.  It was about a 60 mile trip and the speed limit at that time and on that major highway was 55 mph. I was good at staying close to the limit. My roommate was with me and we had just crossed a railroad crossing, approaching an intersection about 100 yards north, less than 15 miles from home.  I had traveled that road numerous times, and I knew that the stop signs were for the cross roads, not the highway, so we continued at our regular speed.  Suddenly, a car came through the intersection from my left and seeing us, stopped in the middle of the road.  I swerved quickly to the right to miss the front of the stopped car and at the same moment in time the driver of the other car decided to accelerate quickly to get out of my way. I swerved back the other way, foot on the brake, but hit the tail end of the big sedan and my car spun around, rolled onto our side right side, and flipped into a ditch.  All of that happened within seconds although I recall experiencing it in slow motion.

When we came to a stop, my hands were still on the steering wheel which I held onto firmly throughout the  ordeal.  There were no seat belts or air bags in 1956.  I looked at my friend who was rolled up in a ball on the floor between the passenger seat and the dashboard.  We were conscious, I did not see any blood nor feel that anything was broken although we were both surprised If not in shock.  The car had come to rest on its right side and I said we should try and get out if we could.  I pushed the door above me open, gave him a hand and we climbed out.  There was a gas station across the road and we limped over and I asked if I could use the phone as we had been in an accident.  The people there had heard it, then saw what had happened and had already called the police and an ambulance. I called my Dad who had given me the car two years earlier and I told him I had a wreck and probably totaled the car. He said, “We can replace cars. I’ll meet you at the hospital.”   After my friend and I were checked out and cleared, I went to a movie with my girlfriend and my friend went home.

We didn’t see it coming and it could have gone the other way with one or both of us being killed but we weren’t.  Why?  We’ll never know except the cards were stacked in our favor that day.

We live with uncertainty and the inability to predict what will happen in the future.  When we know that life can change in a moment and go the other way, we tend to live more fully in the present and not worry about the future. We do what we can to stay safe and healthy.   I often say we make plans as insurance that we may still be around tomorrow.

Comments (4)

  1. Too many close calls and answered calls when the awe-ful angel comes in my long-ish life.
    Happy to live in each moment, no matter when she will appear again.

    Have a joy filled day, Gary.

    1. Thanks, Kathleen. What I have come to realize is that in the end, Death is a friend. Bonhoeffer put it a little differently as the last stage on the road to Freedom. His steps were 1) Discipline 2) Action 3) Suffering and 4) Death. I am more optimistic and prefer developmental stages of 1) Learning 2) Work 3) Leisure and 4) Death. The truth is we are born to die and it’s how we live in between which is what my post was about last December 11. As you might guess, I am an eternal and incurable optimist with a good dose of realism thrown in for good measure in this recipe of life. And, like you, I am happy to live each moment, one day at a time.

  2. “Hi Gary. I’m a new subscriber to your blog. There’s so much insight and wisdom in your post. Thank you for sharing. I believe this uncertainty about life (well described with examples in your post) should drive us to something greater than us. I sincerely feel that believing in a higher power (God) can provide solace, guidance, and a sense of purpose amid life’s uncertainties, offering a source of strength and direction.” Emmanuel Algabe

    1. Welcome, welcome, Emmanuel. Glad to have you as a subscriber and hoping to restore that function here as well as it existing on Substack. I agree with you wholeheartedly that we need a connection to a Source of power and grace beyond ourselves if we are to evolve more into our humanity and enjoy a greater sense of peace and harmony in our lives. Some call it God, others, in different world religions and among indigenous people, have different names and they all point toward a similar source/

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