Jared’s Blog: Boris Pasternak Essay

“Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us,” according to the Russian novelist Boris Pasternak. If that’s true, today must be Christmas, because I am really, really surprised — finally, an essay prompt that actually makes sense. You could knock me over with a feather.

Also, Mr. Pasternak knows what he’s talking about. Living in Russia, I’m guessing he faced a lot of “surprises.” We haven’t gotten that far in European History yet, but it’s pretty obvious from the stuff people talk about when Russia comes up — the Berlin Wall, the Cold War, Stalin, Siberia — the last 100 years haven’t exactly been a picnic. It sounds like a pretty brutal, repressive environment with unpredictable crackdowns and very little personal freedom. And I know this is going to sound a little bit extreme, but to me? That all sounds a little bit like being in high school.

But here’s the thing I respect about Mr. Pasternak. He lived in this cold, miserable part of the world where people in power could — and probably did — ruin his life on a regular basis. And yet he somehow looked around and came up with something positive to say about it all: “Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.” Like, for example, today you go to the store, and they’re not sold out of bread — what a great surprise!

Like Mr. Pasternak, I have come to really value surprises. The big surprise in my life is usually whether the school cafeteria is out of cheese pizza or not. But lately, it seems like there are surprises all around if I look for them. Okay, well, some I don’t have to so much look for as just walk right into, like coming down for breakfast last week and finding my brother had totally ripped out the kitchen. And even weirder, my parents being pretty cool about the whole thing when I’m pretty sure I would have been grounded for a year if I’d trashed the floor that bad.

But that’s not actually what I was thinking of. No, I was thinking about my mom’s birthday, and how my sister and my brother and I made this whole plan to surprise her with a big party and a bunch of decorations. We all had this plan for how it would go — we’d keep her distracted, and then bring her in and yell “Surprise!”

My mom being my mom, she wandered right in while we were doing it, and so much for keeping it a secret. But that made me realize something: We didn’t really need to make a big fuss. She was just happy to have us all together, and not spread out, with Amantha in Atlanta, and my brother not there. And really, when I think about my life, and the stuff my family has been through: No way I could have ever guessed this day would come.

So yeah, I was totally, totally surprised that we were all together for my mom’s birthday, and then there was one more shocker: My sister-in-law is pregnant — and I’m gonna be an uncle! I mean, what?!?!

Put those two things together — my family all in one place, celebrating my mom’s birthday, and this new baby — and no question, Mr. Pasternak is right. It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten.

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