The unexpected is always before us” (Morgan Freeman,Feast of Love”).

The unexpected—quite often known by a much shorter, earthy word—happens. Like on July 4th when Susan and I and most everybody gathered for a holiday BBQ became instant cowpunchers.

We were all over at Susan’s brother Jeff’s house, which is out in the country. His neighbor has cows, who usually are content to stay inside the wood and barbed wire fence surrounding acres of roaming land. But last Saturday, one animal decided she had had enough of appropriate boundaries. Or maybe she simply got lost.

Whatever. Bottom line was she took advantage of a gap in the fence and ended up in Jeff’s back yard. It soon became apparent that Warren (Susan’s oldest brother) and Jeff weren’t going to be able to corral the beast by themselves, so the call came for the rest of us to come outside.

Jeff pressed us into service, assigning everyone a station. Susan and I were closest to the road, and were supposed to shoo the cow back toward the hole in the fence from whence she had come. The way that was to be done was to stand and wave our arms up and down as if we were about to take off flying.

That worked once, but then, snorting and bellowing, the cow came back our way, and she wasn’t going to back down. Fine. We let her through, and she ambled up the hill, then up the road, and through the open cattle gate leading into the neighbor’s property, following the moos of her companions.

What’s to be learned about confronting the unexpected from all this? First, when, uh, stuff happens, be ready to pitch in even if you have no idea what you’re doing. Be available to others who are frightened, overwhelmed, unsure. Don’t be a spectator; get involved and do what you can.

Second, follow the instructions of somebody who’s been in a similar situation or at least has a cool head and can figure things out quickly. We did what Jeff told us to do, stood where he wanted, etc. The unexpected calls for the commander style of leadership. (The others, by the way, are catalyst, encourager, and hermit.) Somebody who can take charge and help solve the problem. Maybe that will be you or me.

Third, when things go south, don’t be a fool. Neither Susan nor I were going to stand in the way of a determined and undeterred animal weighing hundreds of pounds and full of anxiety and adrenalin. So, it may be that when the situation, already unpredictable, becomes more unpredictable still, we simply have to go with it, improvise further, and do our best.

Following these principles may just mean that the next time the unexpected rushes your way or mine, we won’t be cowed.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham