I should have seen it coming.
That’s the great wisdom of hindsight, if only to remind me I’m not all that wise. But I am a planner, too often sure that I would have seen it coming, whatever “it” was, and adjusted accordingly, or avoided “it” in the first place. Planning, I need to remind myself, is not the same as anticipating.
“It” began with a busy spring. I was rekindling a romantic relationship, gearing up for gardening, anticipating a visit from my brother, preparing for two weeks in Scotland and Sweden, and, soon to turn 65, applying for Medicare.
“It” continued the day I returned from my trip in late June. That same day marked the arrival of Jim and my son and daughter-in-law. I was jet lagged, eager to see everyone, overwhelmed by a yard in need of attention just as a heat wave hit, still processing my trip, and suddenly living with someone again.
I should have seen it coming. “It” being, of course, life and its many twists and turns.
“Not knowing what the future will bring is hard for you,” a wise friend recently commented.
So when my granddaughter Sophie was going to spend a day with me this past week, I had all kinds of plans for our time together. We would go to the Como Zoo in the morning. After her nap, we’d check out a neighborhood park with a wading pool and playground. In between we would do a few craft projects. And, as a backup, I hauled up tubs of toys from the basement.
Nothing turned out as planned. The weather was unpredictable. Instead of going to the zoo, Sophie worked up enough courage to pet a neighbor’s cat. Instead of swimming, Sophie donned her helmet and cruised down the sidewalk on her Strider (a bike without pedals) as I ran to keep up.
“Would you like to make muffins?” I asked when we got back. She nodded.
While the muffins baked, we painted. Then the sun came out and we went for another bike ride, following a loud sound up the alley to where workers were reroofing a garage. Sophie wanted me to lift her up so she could see better. The voice inside me that was trying to organize our next activity was drowned out by pounding hammers and her complete attention on the workers.
Our day went this way, unfolding easily, randomly. I found myself almost enjoying not knowing what we might do next—like retirement is supposed to be. A puzzle? Writing on the sidewalk with chalk? Telling her a story before naptime (hers and mine)?
Her days are highly structured around day care and her parents’ schedules. Mine, around my plans. Maybe Sophie and I both needed a break.
I plan so I can be prepared, as if this is a necessary, if not essential life goal. Then I can continue the belief that I have some control. But life seems to keep testing this theory in which I’ve invested most of my money. Instead of a more traditional trajectory for love, I am experimenting with what a long-distance relationship might look like “at my age.” Once regular morning walks with a neighbor are less frequent, shadowed by a cancer that has upended her life. I am a woman who spends her day with words, but I hardly know what to say that doesn’t sound lame.
Surprises are great when it’s a birthday, not so welcome when an election or diagnosis is involved. That’s when I have to admit how little control I have over anything and everything, except how many cups of coffee I drink in a day.
My husband Chris had a heart condition that we knew would eventually take him, but we had constructed our own ending: retirement, grandchildren, some travel, then death. We never expected death to come early because we’d made it convenient for us.
I spent months mapping out a trip that was changed by a missed connection. Who doesn’t keep some kind of bucket list to convince ourselves there’s purpose to our future, only to die before we’re halfway down the list. Better to make muffins.
Planning becomes a fool’s errand when it gets in the way of being present. That’s what I should have seen coming.