"The most important American addition to the World Experience was the simple surprising fact of America. We have helped prepare mankind for all its later surprises." -- Daniel J. Boorstin

Isn't it amazing, the things that can come to pass? America is indeed a surprise. I bet that, back in the 1700s, the British never suspected that those pesky characters setting up shop on the other side of the ocean would build a massive empire. (The pesky characters probably didn't suspect that, either.) The characters -- our pioneering, revolutionary foreparents -- set up a bunch of rules for us to follow. Over the past 200-some years we've grown quite used to them. Most of the 276 million of us Americans follow the rules and vote in an orderly fashion, and don't expect many surprises.

Yet, this November 7, we certainly got a surprise. A murky vote tally in Florida, irregularities and questions, and a presidential verdict hanging in the balance. Who'd have thunk it?

This past week has reminded me how true it is that the unlikely can happen. I shouldn't have forgotten, though. Strange things happen in politics all the time. After all, in Missouri this year a candidate ran against a well-liked opponent who happened to be dead -- and lost. Not too long ago, the good people of Minnesota elected a former professional wrestler as their governor. In preparing this article, I popped over to the governor's website, and was impressed to find it emblazoned with some fairly Foolish statements:

"There are no dumb questions"
"Love is bigger than government"
"No person in Minnesota is ever done learning"
"You can't legislate against stupidity"
"Every vote counts"

The unlikely has even happened to the game of pinball. (Didja know we have a Pinball discussion board?) I came to appreciate the game late in my life (so far), and have been dismayed in recent years, noticing how most pinball game manufacturers have stopped making the games, due to decreased demand. But, all is not lost for the pinball fan. Now you can buy all kinds of pinball software games!

Surprises happen regularly in the non-political world, too. The unlikely also comes to pass. Consider the world of investing. Consider your own financial reality. Do you have a solid nest egg, or one in the works? Are you susceptible to financial decimation through a random accident or illness? Are you optimistic that you'll be able to enjoy a comfortable retirement? You might think that you're doomed to struggle financially forever, but that's not necessarily the case. The unlikely can happen:

  • By saving and investing, you can amass considerable wealth.

  • By planning carefully (and ideally, starting early), you can send your kids to college.

  • You can enjoy a lot of travel and treats in your retirement.

  • You can leave substantial gifts to your children and grandchildren when you pass on to the hereafter.
Those who haven't given much thought to their finances and who find themselves somehow in the motley halls of Fooldom might suddenly realize that they can achieve financial independence. I know that we often trot out examples like the ones below, but they rarely fail to amaze me:
  • Invest $1,000 just once and, if it grows at the market's historical average annual rate of 11%, it'll become $8,000 in 20 years. In 30 years, it'll become almost $23,000.

  • Invest $5,000 for a grandchild on the day he's born and, if it grows at 15% annually (invested in a solid performer, for example), it will top $650,000 by the time he's 35. That would be some kind of 35th birthday present, eh? (Add to the investment over the years and he'll have more!)

  • Invest $200 per month for 20 years, growing at 12% on average per year, and you'll end up with nearly $200,000. Continue for five years more, and it'll be $375,000. Monthly investments of $300 for 25 years yields about $560,000. Earn 15% instead of 12% on monthly $300 investments for 25 years, and you're looking at a nest egg topping $950,000.

It seems incredible, doesn't it, that you could amass $500,000 or $950,000 in your lifetime? But it's true. You can do it with an index fund. You can do it with Rule Makers. If you have a disposition that permits you take on some additional risk, you might plunk a few carefully chosen Rule Breakers into your portfolio along with everything else. When Rule Breakers come through for you, they do so in a big way. But, they're riskier than the average company. Some Rule Breakers just break. (Remember -- don't mimic us. You can find your own Rule Breakers that can do better than ours!)

I suppose there are several ways that the unexpected can occur. Think of ending up with $600,000 in the bank, for example. The most unexpected way that this can happen is if you win a lottery, or perhaps win the jackpot on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? That could happen, of course, but it's not likely. You can increase your odds of financial security by taking matters into your own hands. By investing for the long haul. This way, you might not be surprised to end up with a nest egg -- but its ultimate size probably will surprise you. That's because we rarely earn average returns. Over different 20-year periods, the market will behave differently.

Another example of financial surprises can be found in our annual Foolanthropy charity drive. Last year we raised nearly $800,000 for five organizations and, thanks to contributions from Fools like you, thousands of people around the world were surprised to learn that they'll be able to lift themselves out of poverty, to sate their hunger, and to provide for their families. (Start saving some extra dollars -- this year's drive is around the corner!)

The upshot, then, is that you can profit by planning for the unexpected -- in fact, you can sometimes make the unexpected occur. The rest of the time, of course, you can just sit back and marvel at the crazy things that happen on their own in this world.

One of my favorite photos was of a bunch of flamingos that were herded into a bathroom in a Florida zoo, to protect them from a hurricane. (Hmmm... what is it with Florida?) The photographer probably never expected to get such a great photo. The flamingos surely never expected to have a chance to explore a water closet. And I never expected to click over to a newspaper's website and find such a whimsical photo.

As Chuck Berry once wrote, "C'est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell."

AOL/Time Warner merger update
Speaking of "you never can tell," America Online's (NYSE: AOL) merger with Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) hit a bit of a snag on Wednesday. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) decided that it would not approve the merger until the two companies verified their pledge to open access to broadband cable Internet service providers (ISPs) by producing a signed contract with an ISP to that effect. The FTC may also want to see AOL open up its instant messaging service to external users. See today's Fool on the Hill for more information.