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Another day, another detour

Arlene Anderson re-enacts Edvard Munch's "The Scream" during a recent visit to Ekeberg Sculpture Park, overlooking Oslo. (Photo by Knut Skarsem)

Tell me why the road keeps turning when everything I want is straight ahead.

— Sheryl Crow

“Nothing can go wrong,” says Knut, my Norwegian cousin, as I board a city bus in Oslo during a recent visit. A shadow of doubt creeps into my head. I want to believe everything will be fine, but experience has taught me not to assume.

I am taking a bus to another family member’s house across town. Knut escorts me to the bus stop where I embark and someone will be waiting for me upon arrival at my intended destination. Every precaution seems to be in place.

The first 10 minutes go as planned. Then suddenly the bus lurches forward and the air fills with the sharp sound of breaking glass and twisting metal. The passengers are briefly stunned. What happened? People at the back look out and see a car has rammed into the back of the bus. I understand enough Norwegian to determine the bus driver announces no one is hurt but there will be a delay and we should find another bus.

“Easy for him to say,” I think to myself, feeling a slight panic envelop me. When I deal with various detours at home in Duluth, everything is in English. I know how things function and my phone works. Here in Norway, I feel a bit lost.

Part of me says, “Here we go again.” How many times do we find ourselves just going along, living our lives, then suddenly getting hit with an unexpected change of plans? An illness. A job change. An opportunity. A misunderstanding.

Sometimes getting to where we want to go involves a detour. It is irritating for those of us who like to live in the fast lane. But wherever we are, life isn’t mostly about what happens to us; it’s about how we react to it.

I take a deep breath and watch to see what other people do. Some sit there unmoving. Others quickly get off and begin to walk up the hill. Others get off and walk down the hill. They are not making this easy to figure out.

I step off the bus and look for a friendly face. My glance falls on a pleasant-looking older woman standing on the sidewalk nearby. I hesitatingly approach and explain in my best Norwegian (OK, granted it is not THE best Norwegian) that I don’t know an alternative way to get to my destination. She looks very calm, that is, until I try to talk to her. At this point her eyes widen like a reindeer in the headlights and she backs away from me shaking her head. (Many Norwegians get embarrassed if they don’t understanding the crazy foreigners who try to talk to them.)

Luckily, a younger woman nearby hears me and calls out, “Do you want to explain what you need in English?” I hear angels begin to sing and I reply, “Oh, thank heavens, yes!”

Within a few minutes, everything works out. She helps me call my waiting family to say I will be arriving a little late. Then she walks me to an alternative bus that gets me to my destination via a different route.

Her kindness fills me with joy and thankfulness. She is clearly also touched by this chance to help a stranger. Before parting we exchange warm smiles and a shared sense of humanity’s goodness.

A change of direction often comes with such gifts. Earlier unexpected turns have taught me to be more forgiving, more flexible, more patient, more at peace with imperfection.

“The bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you refuse to make the turn,” said Helen Keller. Sometimes things go wrong. When life’s detours inevitably show up, shift gears and go for a Plan B. With enough practice, we might even learn to appreciate — dare I say find a way to enjoy — the scenic routes.