The Meaning of Oops

January 18, 2011

You may have seen the trailer for the movie 127 Hours, the true-life story of Aron Ralston who, while hiking out in the starkly beautiful and forbidding desert landscape of Utah gets himself stuck in a deep, narrow canyon, a fallen boulder pinning his arm so tightly that he cannot get out.

And the only way he does finally get out is by cutting off his own arm. (With a very dull knife.)

There is a famous moment in the trailer, where the lead character, surveying his situation, says, “Oops.”

But it was not until I saw the film itself that I realized the meaning of his “Oops.”

It wasn’t that he’d fallen.

It wasn’t that the boulder had pinned him.

It wasn’t that nobody happened to be around, so there was no one to hear his screams for help.

It wasn’t even that he’d gotten himself into a situation that looked so bleak as to most likely end up being fatal.

It wasn’t any of those things.

The “Oops” comes after a stunning scene of self-reflection, when Aron realizes that, because of his own flippant attitude, he had ignored a phone call from his mom (one of many, we get the sense) and casually blown off a number of other key points of human contact during the day leading up to his trek — any one of which, had he but taken a moment to connect and tell them what he was up to that weekend and where he was going, would have resulted in someone knowing where he was, and people coming eventually to rescue him once it became clear he was missing.

But he’d breezed on by, treating the people in his life like elements of scenery.

That was the moment of “Oops.”

Last night it snowed.

When I awoke this morning, I looked out and found my car being buried in snow. I dashed outside, literally in my bathrobe, threw myself into the driver’s seat, revved my engine and started my car rolling downhill, backwards, so I could angle it down and around to enter the garage down below in back, before the snow drifts got worse.

But I miscalculated, lost control, and ended up in a snowbank, immobile.

And here was the thing.

My wife Ana had given me a very good suggestion just the day before. “Make sure you put the car in the garage,” she’d said. But I didn’t. Perhaps there was some little reptile-brain part of me that said, “I doan need ta take no advice from nobody” (if that’s how reptiles talk), or perhaps I just didn’t listen. Perhaps there is an ornery 3-year-old’s stubborn streak somewhere deep inside that takes delight in not following advice because, well, I don’t have to, you’re not the boss of me — and I don’t care if it’s bedtime, I’m not (big yawn) tired.

Whatever the reason, I didn’t put the car in the garage. And now it’s stuck.


It makes me wonder: How many unfortunate things that “happen to us” — a falling boulder, a sudden snowfall — are not really out of the blue, random befallings, but simply the echos of our own thoughtlessness?

Here’s how Buckminster Fuller said it, in his Fullerese rendition of The Lord’s Prayer:

We welcome each day our daily evolution
and we forgive, post give, and give
all those who seemingly
trespass against us
for we have learned retrospectively
and repeatedly
that the seeming trespasses
are in fact the feedback of our own negatives,
realistic recognition of which
may eliminate those negatives.


# # #

Postcript, that evening:

Fortunately, I did not have to cut my arm off to get the car out. But given all the snow and ice I had to shovel, it feels like I did.

Oops … and, Ouch.


  1. Josephine Gross

    Delightful story, excellent reminder, and maybe an additional message from the rebellious-teenager part of your brain dreaming of living in Southern California where it’s 85 degrees on Martin Luther King Day.

  2. Art Manville

    Love it! Ana will be so pleased that you have FINALLY learned your lesson.

  3. Ron Ratliff

    Enjoyed the post…I find that the “oops” moments in my life are frequently accompanied by a “BFO” (blinding flash of the obvious)!

    Oh, and for what it’s worth, wives are ALWAYS right!


  4. Connie Field

    Thanks so much, John, for your honesty and making a lesson out of a frustrating event. We all have those “oops” moments but sometimes we just don’t connect the dots at the time, do we? I enjoyed your post very much. Thanks.



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