I had never heard of Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz before today. I happened upon a quote of his, which, for some reason, caught my attention. At some point in his long-ago life, he said: “The backbone of surprise is fusing speed with secrecy.”
Now that’s a good observation.
First, a little bit about him. Carl was a Prussian general. He was also some sort of military “theorist” — whatever that entails. Anyway, he stressed the “moral” and political aspects of war. His greatest written work, Vom Kriege, was unfinished at his death. And that occurred on the 16th of November, in 1831. He was born in 1780.
But enough about Carl, and on to that backbone of surprise.
Surprises can come in a wide array. They can be incredibly good, or frightfully bad. If you ask Webster about surprise, it is described as “an unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing.”
We’ve all had our fair share of surprises in our life times. As I think back on some of mine, I can attest to Carl’s quote. They each contained speed and secrecy.
That is what makes a surprise, a surprise. The secrecy. The unbeknownst, suddenly becomes the be-known.
I was in a tornado once, back in my teen years. That was surely a surprise. One minute, all was happy and good. But there was a big secret looming just over the horizon. And suddenly, my reality became tumultuous. Literally, spinning out of control.
Another instance. I have a friend who has a strong dislike for snakes. Every time she sees one, that element of the unknown, becomes quite apparent. Screams can be heard. Even false alarms are cause for alarm. It may come in the form of a power cords or a curvy stick. The secrecy sneaks out quickly. So does the phrase, “Dammit!”
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. As I mentioned, there are those moments of gleeful astonishment.
Our youthful birthdays. Flower deliveries. Post-Halloween discounts on our favorite candies. A little nest filled with tiny eggs.
Whatever the surprise may be, there is no stopping it. The minutes come as they do, and we are here to be with them.
Speed and secrecy.
But perhaps our biggest surprises should be the things we take for granted. Waking up in the morning with our good health. Seeing through our good eyes, and hearing with our good ears. Going to sleep at night, in our cozy beds, with a roof squarely over our heads.
Where is the speed and secrecy there? I assure you, it is. In every moment. From one to the next, they all come quickly, and without any assurances. If we truly consider this, every moment is a surprise.
And that truly is astonishing.
“Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.”
― Mae West
“What’s happened to me,’ he thought. It was no dream.”
― Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis
“There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved.”
― Charles Morgan