November 20, 2009

Loss of Serendipity

A few weekends ago I spent a delightful 36 hours in Pasadena and environs. Due to circumstances beyond our control, like a UCLA home football game and The Breeder's Cup, Pasadena hotels were sold out. We spent the day there anyway, shopping and visiting both the Pasadena Museum of California Art and the Norton Simon Museum, but had to stay overnight in unexplored territory, Glendale.

Paul and I usually find our way to new places through a combination of AAA maps, Mapquest and my frequently inaccurate sense of direction. Unfortunately I seem to suffer from directional dyslexia. Our traveling companions for the weekend took a more current approach. Armed with an iPhone, they employed a directional "app" that told them exactly how far and how many turns it would take to reach all of our chosen destinations. The primary complication with their system was the delay in launching the application and getting the directions, but they felt it was worth the wait. They seem mildly obsessed with this technology (perhaps even addicted), and would definitely face a cartographic challenge if the all-knowing iPhone lost its charge in the middle of a trip. But I think they might be missing something. After a Sunday morning drive that ended at the Rose Bowl Flea Market without a single deviation from the prescribed route, I realized exactly what it was.

The Rose Bowl is tucked into an old Pasadena neighborhood filled with Green and Green Houses (including Gamble House), large estates and beautiful gardens. I have never arrived there without first getting lost in the surrounding area and enjoying the discovery of a new street, a breath-taking home or a beautiful tree surrounded by a Fall carpet of recently shed red, orange and yellow leaves. My companions never got lost, but something was lacking in the journey.

It was serendipity. If you always know exactly where you're going, if you always follow exact directions, you eliminate the element of surprise. Unanticipated moments add rich layers to our existence. How different my life would be without the good fortune that has accompanied random events. Especially at this time of year, I realize that serendipity has given me a lot of reasons to be thankful.