Unintentional Consquences

I never intended to lose the hummingbirds. But that seemed to happen last year after we enlarged the mudroom and added on a garage. In the old days, the 18 years or so when the house ended 10 feet shorter and the back door led to the outside, flower beds surrounded the back of the house. The hummingbirds would dart from the rose bush and the delphinium on one side of the back steps to whatever was blooming on the other. Last summer, when the seemingly endless construction had us with a framed-in, sided garage with a yet unfinished inside, a hummingbird got stuck inside. We could hear it frantically beat its wings as it darted from the window on one side of the attic-to-be to the other. I ran to my computer, googled everything I could think of (“freeing hummingbirds,” “attracting hummingbirds,” “scared, trapped hummingbirds”), and found out they’ll go for bright colors. So I ran—I mean we were in fast-forward mode—to the rose bush, cut off a branch, and stuck it in the opened garage door. I didn’t see the bird fly out, but it must have because we never found it dead.

We didn’t see any more hummingbirds the rest of last summer and through this spring and summer until the other day: outside the window, one was flitting from petal to petal of a bee balm flower. I had never observed one work so assiduously on one plant. Usually they’re a sip here, a sip there. We’ve seen at least one male and female—like it’s not as if they wear nametags. But they found their way back, and that makes us happy.

The lack-of-hummingbirds made me think about all the things we—or maybe just “I”—do that lead to consequences we (I?) couldn’t imagine. A couple of weeks ago when it was so hot, I tweeted that I was at my desk in my bathing suit. You all know how on twitter you can’t really control who follows you, so there are always these strange people or “bots” who supposedly read what you write? Within minutes, this guy is asking me if I’m in a bikini. Then I start to receive porn spam. Then “Naked in Costa Rica” and “Dating Seniors” start to follow me. (They’ve both since unfollowed, but I kind of miss “Naked in Costa Rica.”) So lesson learned. I shouldn’t tweet about what I’m wearing. Or, if I want to tweet that I’m in my underwear, I’ve just got to deal with all the baggage that comes with using certain key words in a public social media space.

Other things I’ve done with unforeseen consequences:

  • Sent my kids to expensive overnight camps, so that now my daughter can say that Malia Obama attended her camp (many years later). Really, we were just trying to make sure our son and daughter were sufficiently exposed to sports, something that was terribly lacking in the excellent New York City public schools they attended.
  • Tried to mend the floor in my rent-stabilized apartment when the landlord didn’t respond to our complaints about mice. Turned out that was an illegal repair and it ended up that to avoid a long court battle, we bought the apartment. Now, owning our apartment is great—but it costs us more than three times what it would have if we were still just paying rent.

Still how can we think things through, really through, when we can’t see into the future? I’ve become resigned to the idea that we can only plan so much. Life, it seems, is often about the scramble to reap the whirlwind.

Here are some thoughts I’d love you to comment on:

  • How long ago does the “event” have to be for us to associate the consequences with “today?” What I mean by this is do I look back on my life and think, “well, yeah, if I hadn’t left college teaching because there were no job back then and stuck it out teaching a course here and there, well, does that mean that although I intended to start on a new course, I actually did something dumb?”
  • In other words, when do consequences turn into regrets? And if we did things that much later on we regret, when do we let go of those regrets.

My immediate reaction would be, “gotta let go of the past.” And “gotta learn to live with unintentional consequences.” Own your stuff, so to speak. BTW—as I type this, I am wearing my running clothes because somehow the run turned into gardening before dinner turned into I’ll just finish the blog post before I wash the lettuce. So now you all know what I’m wearing. Thank goodness, or at least I hope thank goodness, that strange guy following me on Twitter has dropped away and doesn’t read my website.