There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven. – – Ecclesiastes
Some years back I remember discovering an old school annual from my senior year in high school that called on me to envision what I hoped to be doing five years after graduation. I couldn’t help but get a chuckle out of what I had written: I hope to have graduated college with an engineering degree, be practicing electrical engineering, and be married with at least two children. It is interesting, indeed, to find such treasures buried in personal stored boxes, unearth them like some archaeological remain, and to reflect upon the history associated with such an artifact.
What’s in a Plan?
Needless to say, countless curve balls assaulted that five-year plan, including that while spending more time in the pool hall than class and navigating several girlfriends, I quickly discovered that not only was engineering not my dream, but also I had few, if any, dreams or goals of my own. So following the sinuous paths of Junior College (Community College for you Gen. X’s and Millennial’s), various and sundry jobs, the Air Force Reserve, numerous relationships, several university major changes, and finally three different degrees, I wound upon a path (or should I say paths), I would have never planned nor envisioned. Nor would I have embarked on such a plan if someone would have laid it out in front of me and told me, this is how it’s going to fall out. For in fact, probably like most life-paths, it doesn’t appear to be a plan at all, but an accumulation of a hodgepodge of tries, failures, confusions, successes, more failures, and more successes, all resulting in a witches brew that we call a life journey.
‘What If‘ Meanderings
I have to admit that I reflect on the notion of what it might have been like if I had done it all right, whatever doing it right entails. [And above all, what it would have been like if I had learned to play a rock guitar like Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page!!] However thoughts about doing it all over again, and then doing it right, tend not to be all that fruitful. Although such meanderings can take on some enjoyable daydreaming at times, if taken too seriously they can lead to nagging doubts, feelings of wasted time, and thoughts of regret. Typically such reflections include notions of never making a mistake, never encountering either mental or moral failings, and being perfectly responsible for every action taken. That’s a nice piece of heaven-on-earth, but back here on earth, it’s not all that helpful because it’s not all that real. As it is anyway, I believe I can say with complete honesty that after all the highs and lows, losses and victories, failures and successes, I’m glad to be exactly where I am at this moment – living, breathing, healthy, and very thankful to be alive.
To Plan or Not to Plan
I’m going to throw this out there, and I hope readers respond to this writing because I am truly interested in your thoughts. To me, there appears to be in life many tensions that we’re always seeking to navigate. One of those tensions involves what I have already somewhat touched on: planning our life journey on the one hand, while, on the other hand, taking life in stride. Like many tensions, I don’t believe it’s an either-or question. And I’m for sure not writing this piece to lecture anyone on how to navigate this or any other tension in life. For one thing, quite frankly I wouldn’t know what to tell anyone, and secondly, even if I thought I had a clue, I wouldn’t offer it as an answer for everyone else. Nonetheless, it’s a navigation that appears to make up our personal endeavors and to be inherent in our human existence.
Shock Therapy & The Fruitlessness of Worry
Based on my own experiences, it appears that if we lean too hard on one side of that tension or the other, we encounter some shock therapy that sends us rebounding to the other side or pole. I know well those times when I have tried much too hard to control life and where it seemed to be taking me. No matter how hard I fought not to be taken there, I ended up there anyway. Other times, I have most definitely had to face the consequences of shoddy planning, lack of preparation, or no planning or preparation whatsoever. Yet with the planning, lack of planning, misfires, and misjudgments, life has shaken out the way it has. If there’s one thing I would have changed, looking back, it would have been not to have worried so much or have been so uptight about how things might fall out. I don’t believe that worrying added a thing to my understanding of how to do this thing called living, except to teach me the fruitlessness of worrying. But then that too is a lesson. Is it not? Alas, the writings of Solomon in Proverbs and the “Preacher” in Ecclesiastes ring loud and clear. Don’t all of our encounters with life come about in ways that, if we choose, we can learn something from them?
Adjusting ‘What If’ to ‘How‘
It seems to me that those if I had done it right meanderings seek to rob us of something valuable in life, although I admit we probably don’t want what that is most of the time. And that of course are those mental mistakes and moral failures. I have come to believe, however, [and it scares the bejabbers out of me to write this sentence] that such mistakes and failures are what life learning is all about. But we must take the opportunity to embrace the learning. The meanderings will most likely not cease for me anyway. Like I said, they can be fun at times. But I’m seriously thinking about altering them from if I had done it right meanderings to how did I get here meanderings. Perhaps such a twist will allow me to take in the whole experience – wins, losses, successes, and failures. So I’m not saying that I want to stop reflecting on my life as past, present, and future. But in so doing, I feel I need to reflect on my life, not some life that could’ve, should’ve, or would’ve been.
The title of this essay is Taking Life in Stride, so that side of the tension most definitely appeals to me. However, I don’t think taking life in stride necessarily negates making and having plans. It’s a tension that merely needs to exist. And in allowing it do so, I hope it likewise allows me stay grounded in the present, to learn what I need from the past while letting go of what I don’t need, and to remain hopeful for the future. No doubt I will make other mistakes and commit moral failings that I can hopefully glean something from that keeps me heading somewhere, even if I don’t exactly know where that is all that time. The wise “Preacher” in Ecclesiastes says it best, in a way that cannot be improved upon:
For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble is heavy upon him . . . No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind.
Years ago, a 60’s folk singer, Donovan, had a hit song entitled, “Try and Catch the Wind.” The song created this image in my mind of a guy running around an idyllic country scene waving a butterfly net in the air. When asked by someone what he was doing, he replied, I’m trying to catch the wind. Rather than enjoying what was there, the harried individual was seeking to accomplish what was impossible. We simply can’t know when and how things will happen. And it seems to be a human failing that we are constantly trying to know more than we can actually know. So are Solomon’s warnings a charge against planning? I don’t think so. But perhaps they are a charge that we not become too locked into making our plans fall out the way we think they should, come hell or high water. Plans are simply human creations, and there’s nothing wrong with scrapping them rather than hanging on to them with a death grip. As the “Preacher” warns, and as Donovan’s song suggests, empty striving can only lead to further empty striving, which the “Preacher” aptly sums up as striving after the wind.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D/March 14, 2015