I visited the Bacara resort in Santa Barbara a few nights ago. I had heard good things about this sprawling oasis by the ocean but hadn’t experienced it for myself. It was dark out so I still haven’t seen a lot of the resort, but I did at least get a sense of the grandness of the place. It was huge and fancy and I can imagine that it’s quite lovely in daylight. On this night, however, Jessy and I were just looking for a good place to grab a drink and some food before heading to UCSB. I now believe that everything at the Bacara is grand: the shrimp in my shrimp cocktail were certainly some of the largest in the sea. Or, at least the largest I’d ever seen. Or eaten. Yum. When we explained to the bartender that we were heading to a lecture at UCSB he was genuinely puzzled. “You want to listen to a lecture?” We nodded. “I can get my dad here to give you one.”
Even after we did some explaining – that we’d both read an excellent memoir in the past year by the author who was speaking – he wasn’t getting it. At UCSB, we listened to Cheryl Strayed for nearly two hours. She shared some of the background story of her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail years ago (the basis of her memoir, “Wild”) and read some selections. She is also the voice/heart/wisdom behind an online advice column on the website The Rumpus, who goes by the name “Dear Sugar.” I’d also read this year her book of compilations of these letters called “Tiny Beautiful Things” and it had a profound effect on me. When she was entertaining questions something she said struck me. A younger woman from the audience asked a question about her own path and whether or not Ms. Strayed thought she should do this or that. I don’t remember the specifics of the question, only the power of her answer. She reminded the young woman that life is a surprise. We may create plans and think we have mapped out our steps, but we are not really—ultimately—in control.
One of the things Jessy and I both enjoy about our job is meeting the guests who stay with us. Two specific guests come to mind when I think about the element of surprise in each of our life journeys. They came by at different times – one was heading South after having taken a shot at love by moving North only to find out that it wasn’t going to happen. The other was heading North (all the way to Alaska) after a string of challenges in his life led him to head for home to regroup. We got to talk with each of these travelers just long enough to appreciate their journey and get a glimpse of the way surprise had been woven into their stories. Even our chance meetings – they each stopped for one night here along the way – feels like a gift.
I was reminded of this as I listened to Cheryl Strayed talk about the way her book has resonated with people from very different walks of life: we are all connected in at least this way. Each of us will be surprised at the twists and turns our own paths take and any time we cross paths – to offer encouragement, companionship, or a listening ear – we should jump on the opportunity. Those moments are the most pleasant kind of surprise.