The Edmond Sun

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March 1, 2013

Unintended consequences befuddle even the most socially adept among us

EDMOND — Two hundred years ago, the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote that our best-laid plans oft go astray, and even today they still do. With the best of intentions, who hasn’t unwittingly turned a compliment into a cut, a friendly gesture into an insult, an otherwise gala occasion into a near-disaster?         

In the literary world, no one’s plans go astray more spectacularly than Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervante’s most famous fictional character, Don Quixote. But he does mean well in his ramblings about the countryside jousting with windmills, rescuing fair damsels who are not in distress, righting ill-perceived wrongs in general and leaving us a derivative of his name to describe well-meant but self-defeating acts.

A quixotic deed can go down in the blink of an eye and the consequences are varied. In the best scenario, you and the victim of your quixotic deed can share a good laugh. In the worst scenario, you hope never to face your unintended victim again.       

Suppose your hostess introduces you to what you take to be a young pregnant co-guest, then leaves the two of you alone to make small talk while she flits off to welcome new arrivals. That’s what happened to me in real time. The minutes ticked by and the young mother-to-be and I had exchanged tidbits on every topic including household hints and recipes. Our conversation had grown as cold as our coffee and the silence in our corner of the room had thickened. Even so, seeing that our hostess was still occupied, I felt obliged to carry on. Placing my cup on the tray, I cleared my throat and jumped back in.

“So,” I began in my best twinkling voice, “do you have other children?” She shook her head, and with the best of intentions I gestured toward her tummy, smiled my congratulations and asked which trimester she was in. A huge mistake! She was quick to tell me, and none too kindly, that she wasn’t in any trimester whatsoever. I knew in that instant there wasn’t the remotest chance she would ever become my friend. Nor would my hostess, who it turned out was the mother of my young obese but un-pregnant co-guest.

Perhaps you’ve caught yourself in such a situation, handled it gracefully and learned from your mistake ... as I did, but not right away. I did learn to limit phone calls to my post-surgery friends convalescing at home, but not until after one of them fell out of bed reaching for the phone. How was I to know she’d be allergic to the flowers I sent in apology?

Allergies are tricky. Some time later I slipped a delectable chunk of crabmeat off my plate and onto that same friend’s plate as a treat and I all but killed her again. I knew she had allergies, but she hadn’t mentioned shellfish.

We never exchanged Christmas cards after that, and today I got word she had died of natural causes these many years later. To be on the safe side, I won’t be sending flowers.

MARJORIE ANDERSON is an Edmond resident.

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