Happy Accidents

“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” – Bob Ross

I know what you are thinking and that was my initial thought too. What a load of baloney, yeah? I mean, if we tried to pass off our mistakes as happy little accidents, we may as well make accidents the norm, right? Happy little accidents? How do you put happy and accident in the same sentence? That’s an oxymoron, no? And a three-word-sentence at that? As in happy and accident take up two-thirds of the sentence? And what’s little anyway? Is it the lack of spilled blood that qualify an accident as little? Who measures happiness and how long should that feeling last after the accident? Unfortunately for me, Bob Ross is the late, so I couldn’t ask him these questions.

As with many thoughts that refuse to leave my mind until I do something about it, this one stayed on for a while. I tried to think of a mistake(s) I had made that turned out great. You see, I am very analytical, logical, systematic and anything else that can be defined as disliking surprises. I love structured, ordered, and functional environments. While I have made mistakes in my life, they are often most unwelcome and it would be idiotic to declare any as a “happy little accident”, or so I thought. Until I read somewhere that for many of us, our very existence could be considered happy little accidents.

Think about it. Your parent(s) may never have gone shopping for a baby. In fact, getting pregnant was probably the last by-product they expected when they got onto that conveyor belt. Maybe they were too young, just experimenting as they tried to find their footing in the adult world; or maybe they thought they had fulfilled their duty of filling the world with the children they already had; or you are a second-born like me (did you know that most second-borns are unplanned for?). Yet there was nothing they could do to prevent your conception. They may have thought of you as an accident, yet here you are taking a serving at this life.  Your life, dear reader, is a fortunate stroke of serendipity. A happy little accident!

In the light of this, I could picture some of my past mistakes that turned out not too shabbily. Of course, there are many that still make me cringe. Those that make me have a conversation with myself and wish to write a letter to my younger self. Yet, even such have provided great learning experiences . I am wiser because of my past mistakes, which also make me more empathetic towards anyone making the same mistake. Ross didn’t say it but I am sure he would agree with Harvey Mackay who said: One mistake will never kill you. The same mistake over and over again will.

I will not write about my happy little accidents. I will do better by telling you what a couple of friends told me when I asked about their past mistakes they thought fitted the description of happy little accidents. In this era of COVID-19, people have time and they were happy to indulge me. The names and some identifying details have obviously been changed to protect the individuals’ privacy.

I knew Leah back in college but we never kept in touch after graduation. Life is however, full of surprises and I met Leah more than twenty years later when we both took our  daughters to the same high school. We marveled that we last met when we were just a little older than our girls. I knew she was a single mum but I didn’t expect her to tell me that the biggest mistake she ever made was marrying the father of her two daughters – her college sweetheart who she thought was the love of her life. They were both God-fearing, church youth leaders and it seemed only natural that they should tie the knot once they were done with school. They were married two years after graduating, and another three years later, they welcomed their first baby child, a beautiful girl who is now at the university. However, dear hubby who was a pastor-in-training at the very church they had met when in college had a roving eye for the university female students. Caught not once, but twice and reported to the church administration, he was forced to step down and of course things took a turn for the worse on the home-front too. He started drinking heavily and became abusive towards Leah. Leah, who was expecting the second born filed for divorce and celebrated her thirtieth birthday as a divorced, single mother of two.

I asked her what’s happy about this mega accident and she answered in a manner only a mother can. “My two beautiful daughters. They have given my life meaning all these years. I have struggled to raise them on my own but it was worth every tear and sweat and wouldn’t have it any other way!” I believe they are many women (and men) who are no longer together with their spouses, or who remain in unhappy marriages. However, much as they may regret the decision to marry or to be involved with their partners, they would never regret having their children who color their world with sunshine yellow.

Then there’s Liz, my dear friend who is a nurse, currently at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19 (remember to say a prayer for her and all our health workers). Liz grew up in relative comfort on the slopes of Mt Kenya. She was a well-adjusted child who did well in school and dreamed of becoming a bank teller in the city, just like her favorite uncle. By the time she completed her A-levels in 1989, she knew better to aim for a college education where she intended to study accounting. The forced gap year before joining college was however, full of surprises for the young lady.

To paraphrase Michel de Montaigne, our minds, unless kept busy with some definite subject that will bridle and control them, tend to throw themselves in disorder hither and yon in the vague field of imagination…And there is no mad or idle fancy that they do not bring forth in the agitation. Liz got herself into a pretty pickle that brought forth a bouncing baby boy a month after she should have reported to college. Nursing her son however, made Liz find her life’s calling – taking care of others. She was lucky to have supportive parents who enrolled her at the nearby Tumutumu Hospital Training College for a Diploma in Nursing. That career took off very well and as in many movie scripts, our nurse met and married a handsome doctor she met in the line of duty. Liz, now a grandmother of two, loves her job and says she cannot imagine what she would have done with an accountancy degree (she doesn’t even like numbers!). Was getting pregnant when she did a mistake or a happy little accident? Looking at my friend’s contented life, I believe without a doubt that was a blessing in disguise.

Interestingly, the mistakes narrated by all the ladies that responded to me had to do with the birth of their children and/or their love lives or lack thereof. It is definitely fertile ground for research! The men in my circles are apparently afraid of being vulnerable and none offered any insights (need to find me some new friends!) I could tell a few of the stories on their behalf but I will give them another chance to redeem themselves. At the end of the day, it is all about self-acceptance and self-love.

I need to stop writing before this post loses focus completely. However, remember this: You can’t be afraid to make mistakes because there are no mistakes…only happy little accidents!