The Extraordinarily Inadvertent Life

I’ve heard there are unexpected opportunities to be enriched by our inadvertent moments…

when we’re not busy missing them.

Think about it. How many magical moments were totally unplanned?

That’s not to say planning isn’t necessary — it’s just to note that often the best planning occurs AFTER the fickle finger of fate has first worked its magic.

Think about it. How many great discoveries have come by way of colliding with the inadvertent moment?

Let’s take a look at just a few…

💐 The Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming went on vacation from his lab before thoroughly cleaning his (staph) staphylococci trays. Upon his return he found a strange fungus had killed off all surrounding bacteria in the culture. With the discovery of penicillin, medicine was changed forever.

💐 Percy Spencer, an American scientist, inadvertently left a half eaten Hershey bar in his pocket when he just happened to walk in front of a magnetron. As he reached into his pocket for his pipe he grabbed hold of what was now a melted’ Hershey bar. Not long afterwards households around the world were heating their dinners in microwave ovens.

💐 Then there’s the case of French scientist Henri Becquerel who, while working on an experiment involving a uranium-enriched crystal, inadvertently left a crystal in a darkened drawer on top of a glass plate.  A few days later, when he went to retrieve the crystal he discovered an image burned on the plate. Marie Curie named this image a “Turd Blossom.” We know it as radioactivity.

💐 Perhaps the weirdest inadvertent discovery was made by Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias, two Bell Labs physicists. In trying to figure what was causing the irritating background noise on their antenna, they stumbled upon the sound of the leftover radiation from the Big Bang which had ushered into being our very universe.

💐 How else do explain the 9th century Chinese alchemist who, while trying to find the elixir for eternal life, happened upon gunpowder?

💐 Or when Will Kellogg from Battle Creek, Michigan accidentally left some wheat on the stove. It boiled too long and he happened upon a process that led to — Corn Flakes.

💐 Then there was that certain someone who, after attending a “laughing gas” party where nitrous oxide was administered to the partygoers, got the bright idea that this gas could help mask pain. With that revelation — anesthesia was born.

💐 Or who can forget the English pharmacist, John Walker, who accidentally got a lump of antimony sulfide and potassium chlorate on the end of his mixing stick. Then, in trying to scratch it off, he found that it burst into flames. Voila! Matches were invented.

💐 Finally, over a century ago, the Belgian scientist, Leo Baekeland accidentally mixed formaldehyde and phenol together and found that he’d stumbled upon something we now know as plastic, which revolutionized pretty much everything in manufacturing.

These are but a few illustrations of extraordinary inadvertent moments.

But these historical illustrations are often matched by our own stories of how the fickle finger of fate has intervened, and at unexpected times moved our own mountains.

💐 Just the other day my cousin told of the instance in 1958 when his next door neighbor called him and asked if he could borrow some mushrooms for a pizza. My cousin, being a good neighbor, agreed to bring them over, at which point his friend introduced him to his date. The very same woman would become my cousin’s wife — for the next 63 years and counting.

💐 And lest it be left out, let me witness to my own story of how I sent Marsha a letter of apology for an inadvertent oversight I had committed years earlier in working my 9th step. It was in taking that simple step that years later a wonderful marriage would come to transform the lives of both of us.

As the old sage E.M. Forster reminds us:

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

Just a thought…


Copyright © 2023 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.

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