red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen



Not By Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life

Samantha Dunn
New York: Henry Holt and Company ©2002


The gifts we are given in this life often arrive in strange and unusual packages. Events that, in our personal daily context, would seem to be obvious disasters, crises, tragedies, or at the very least, problems, may hold unexpected benefits. To receive those gifts, those messages from the Universe, we must be paying attention, and to do that, we must give up our typical stance of sleepwalking through life. In Not by Accident, Samantha Dunn offers her experience as a cautionary tale.

Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander, describes Dunn's story as an examination of "the parts played by elements of risk, identity, and the unexamined life in her own catastrophe, and the unexpected requirements of healing."

In Part I, 'Thoroughbreds are by definition nervous horses,' we stumble with Dunn into the seemingly random event that nearly takes her life, finally gets her attention, and forces her to look at how she has spent her days up to that point.

In Part II, 'Accidents are like a fever,' Dunn takes us back into her life, showing us and herself, some of how her attitudes developed, where the threads of her world led, and why she may have found herself on that dirt trail with a skittish horse who responded by instinct and contributed to catastrophe.

By the time we get to Part III, 'A horse makes a woman difficult,' we are, like Dunn, searching for answers to issues of both daily life and ultimate meaning. During the recovery from her physical injuries, Dunn examines her emotional life and its spiritual landscape and seeks guidance from many sources. As many of us want to know (and as has now become the title of Po Bronson's best-seller), Dunn asks "What do I do with my life...?", thinking that her physical constraints may be the determining factor for her future.

In response to that question, Dunn receives an email message from essayist Father Mike Heher, who writes:

'Someone once said that life must be lived forward but can only be understood looking backward. I think we have to endure much before we can see how God has guided our steps. To do it prematurely is to make as real only what you wish were real. I am of the providence-is-a-mystery school. By that I mean that human and divine life is so complex and inter-related that it is almost impossible to see how God acts or why. I don't see the suffering of innocents or the dreadful acts of the holocaust have any place in God's providence. But I believe that God is there, even there. I live providence as a belief and a question. Perhaps that will get you started."

In many respects, and again like too many of us, Dunn's questions about her future focused primarily on her work. But she learns there is much more to finding an answer than looking for a new career. She faces the possibility that her broken bones may never heal or she may never be able to return to familiar pursuits. Dunn must then truly confront her life's accumulation of emotional injuries that, unexpectedly, seem to impair both the healing of her bones and the healing of her spirit. And as she uncovers the gifts buried in a life of risk-taking, accident-making, and emotional avoidance, Dunn becomes visible to herself and begins to heal — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

As Lee K. Abbott, author of Strangers in Paradise, says, "Ms. Dunn is the storyteller we all one day want to be: a writer unafraid of the less flattering truths, a writer keen to know why the up is at times down, a writer undaunted by the mysteries peculiar to this planet, a writer for whom the easy answers are no answers at all."


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