[Photo: My mom and my daughter.]
“In three words I can sum up everything I know about life. It goes on.” -Robert Frost
We are three months into 2019, and I I’ve hit the “Clint Eastwood” trifecta of life events:
The Good: My daughter Katherine got married.
The Bad: My mom passed away.
The Ugly: I tore my Achilles tendon.
The “good” was really good! The wedding went off without a hitch and was enjoyed by all. It was a great event and worth all the time, effort, and money to pull it off.
The “bad”, of course, was awful. My mom had been ill and so it wasn’t a shock, but it’s never a happy event when a loved one leaves us behind in this world. I had never lost a close family member until now, so this is was a new experience. It will take a long time to get over it.
The “ugly” was frustrating and painful when it occurred in January, but it has improved. I am out of my boot and beginning to walk like a normal person again.
So, 2019 has been full of big events, and it’s only a quarter finished! Of course, I hope for only good things to happen the rest of the year, but there’s no guarantee of that.
There have been a few years in my life in which a bunch of life-changing events happened at almost the same time. In 1990 I got married, became a father, and bought a house all in the same year. Julie and I both changed jobs and careers in 2001. In 2013-14 our kids graduated college and high school, respectively. Some years just fly by with no big events; others are crammed full of memorable times. 2019 has been memorable for good and bad reasons.
What strikes me about all of the years, the eventful ones and the uneventful ones, is that the world kept turning no matter what was happening to me. When I got the news about my mother’s death, I was driving on Olive Boulevard. The first thought I had was “why are the traffic lights still working?” The world around me acted like nothing happened. Didn’t the world know I had just experienced a profoundly sad event? People just kept going about their business like nothing happened. My mom wasn’t here anymore…yet the rest of the world continued moving along.
When I was getting ready to walk my daughter down the aisle, capping this life-affirming event we had been planning for over a year, I was struck by the normalcy of it. We were just walking down a brick path. People were playing on the beach nearby. Planes flew overhead with their passengers doing crossword puzzles. And there we were, unbeknownst to those passengers, experiencing a life-changing event right below them.
Even when I tore my Achilles, the guys at the gym were concerned and offered to help, but the next day they understandably were not thinking about the pain, surgery and recovery I’d be going through. They had their own lives and concerns. I was just a story they might tell each other the next week. I don’t blame them; I’ve been that guy many times.
Life goes on. It’s a bittersweet thought: we know that the world will go on even if we are injured, or if we get married, or we die. Maybe I won’t go on, but Life will. The bitter realization is that the universe keeps doing what it is doing regardless of my status. But this realization is also the sweet part; even if something happens to me, the world will continue. My family will endure. My friends will eventually get over it. Somebody will do my job.
Right now, somebody’s daughter is getting married somewhere. Somebody’s mother is dying. Somebody is tearing his Achilles (sorry, whoever you are!). Maybe you won’t have all of those things happen to you, but Good, Bad, Ugly and Beautiful things will happen to you and me again and again. Life is awesome and awful. Some of us have more than our share of one or the other, but we almost surely will get some of each.
So why do we plan when we know our plans may get all blown to hell? Look, I get paid to help people plan. “Planner” is in my job title! We do all we can to try to control what we can control, but in the end there are just some things that will happen regardless of how well we plan.
That is the sweetness (and yes, the bitterness) of Life. There’s another quote about life, this one by Robert Burns: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley” (often go awry). We plan, but the world turns whatever way it will.
No matter how joyful something is, there will be some sorrow mixed in…the wedding was profoundly wonderful, but a few key people were, sadly, too ill to attend. I couldn’t change that. And no matter how awful the sorrow is, you might have a small amount of joy there, too…in recent days we’ve had lots of laughs about some of the ways my mom drove us crazy. Even my torn Achilles gets a few laughs if I tell the story right. (ok, maybe everybody is laughing at me, not with me! Still kind of funny.)
Life goes on. I’ve had a crash course in Robert Frost’s quote. Cry with it. Laugh with it. Embrace it. Live it. We can’t avoid the pain, but sometimes we will get joy when we least expect it. We plan, and it’s good that we plan. Life without plans is mayhem. Plans let us know when things are going well, but they also let us know when things have gone off track. It’s then we realize we must pivot, plan again, and remember: Life goes on.