Thursday, August 28, 2014


       "Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans."

     This has often been attributed to John Lennon, but it seems first to have been stated in Reader's Digest in 1957.  And it's a healthy motto to live by. Too often, I hear people say "When (this) happens, then I'll do (this)." And what if it doesn't happen? In the interim, while you're waiting, you may have been blind to other opportunities, other adventures. And in the meantime, you whine and wallow in self-pity, because things aren't working out the way you "planned."

     I was married to a politician. Let me tell you, political social functions can be a real drag! (The "Rubber Chicken Circuit", we called it, because the meals were uniformly dull.) Most political wives tended to stay home. I could have, also, especially because I was the "artistic, creative" type, and had little in common with those people. But I viewed it as a challenge. "Where are we going tonight?" I'd ask my husband. "The VFW." And I'd bring out all my stories of when he was in the Army and have fun conversations all evening with the other guests. And because most of those functions had a band, my husband and I took dancing lessons. If the other guests (and the speeches, ye gods!) became tiresome, we could always enliven our evening with a few turns around the dance floor.

     At the moment, I work in a Bridal Salon, selling wedding dresses. (Great fun---I can play with live Barbie Dolls all day!) Too often, I encounter stressful brides, worried about some snag in their "plans". "Don't worry so much," I tell them. "I can assure you that no one remembers a perfect wedding, not even you. It's all a happy blur. But if, in twenty years, you can remember that you nearly killed the florist, or that Uncle Charlie brought his tramp girlfriend to the affair, you'll laugh about it and the memories will come alive."

     I can attest to that myself. I've been to many family weddings, but the ONLY ONE I remember vividly was when I was sixteen. My cousin was getting married. The flower girl (all of 3) cried all the way down the aisle, and never scattered her petals. But she calmed as the ceremony began. She stood behind the bride, facing her brother, the ring-bearer (a very mature 4-year-old!), and kept offering him her petals. He (being VERY mature, as I've said) sternly waved her off. And then, during a solemn exchange of vows, her sweet voice piped up, "Do you want a PINK one then?" 

     And I once got a call at the Salon from a mother, who was terribly upset. It seems that her daughter, the bride, had been in an accident and would have to come down the aisle with a cane. "Why should you be upset?" I said. "There won't be a dry eye in the house, and in twenty years, when other weddings have been forgotten, people will still be talking about the 'brave bride.'" 

     "The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray." Roll with them, accept them, make the most of what you're dealt. 

      Don't over-plan your life so it blinds you to the possibilites of the present. I learned that lesson from my sister. My then-husband and I were going through a rough patch in our lives, where our finances (and even his career) were in danger of imploding, and the situation wouldn't be resolved for quite a few months. It was hard to be cheerful, so I called my sister and poured out my heart over the phone. "Wait a minute," she said. "What's the worst that can happen?" I told her. "Can you live with it?" she asked. I thought about it, and realized we could, that----even if our "plans" for a comfortable future were destroyed---we could concentrate on the here and now and make the most of it.

          I sat down with my husband, and we discussed what we would do for the next few months, until the problems were resolved. It was the beginning of summer. No extra money for vacations, fancy trips, summer camp for the children. No beach club, though we lived near the ocean. But we had a great backyard for cookouts and parties with friends, and I found out about a free summer program for kids, which the local school was sponsoring. We even discovered a nearby park that had free opera performances every Saturday night, complete with costumes and staging. We prepped the kids on what the operas would be about, and introduced them to some of the music before every weekend. We’d go early to the park with a huge picnic basket, and set up our chairs and blankets---usually the first ones there, so we had a front row! The kids loved it.(A delicious memory from one Saturday: The opera was La Traviata, the story of a tragic consumptive heroine. It had rained earlier in the day, so the performance was delayed by nearly an hour. As the time grew late, I turned to my sleepy young daughter, who must have been 6 or 7 at the time, and suggested she lie down and sleep. “No!” she said emphatically. “I can’t go to sleep until she DIES!”)

      When the summer was over, and the situation was thankfully resolved happily, the children threw us a small party. The note that accompanied the gift they gave us was worth every sleepless night of worry we’d had: “Thank you for making your worst summer our very best summer.”

      “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

      Recently, I was in California visiting my daughter. I was getting my nails done. I don’t know how the manicurist and I got on the general topic of making the most of your life, but she told me a touching story. It seems that, when she was only 8, her father had died. Her mother had had to go to work in a sock factory. (“Can you imagine? A SOCK factory!” she’d said in disbelief.) But every day, when her mother came home, she’d tell a funny story about what had happened at work And the little girl would think it was so wonderful, she couldn’t wait to go to work herself!

      My whole point here is to say that, if you plan too much, you lose the ability to be resilient, to weather the storms, to fall down and bounce back. To deal with people and circumstances as they ARE, not how you WISH they were. (Remember, you can’t change people or many unexpected circumstances. You can only change how you react to them.) Don’t spend your life “on hold” until your plans and wishes come true. Remember the old saying: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

       Right about now, I can hear my friends and family snickering. Because, you see, I’m a compulsive list-maker. “If that isn’t planning, what is?” I can hear them saying. I started my lists in college, when I was busy trying to remember the Egyptian dynasties, and didn’t want to bother with remembering when to pick up my shirts from the laundry. Took a lot of grief for it. (Dear friends once made an anniversary booklet of satirical playlets, involving our lives. One of them concerned me waking up with labor pains, then consulting my list and telling my husband that I couldn’t go to the hospital for another two weeks, because that’s when I’d penciled in the birth!) And my children fought over who would give me the T-shirt that says: “Is anal-retentive hyphenated?" (It is, as you can see. OF COURSE I looked it up!) I didn’t stop being mocked until the “self-help”, “get-control-of-your-life” movement came along. And every book started with the admonition: “MAKE A LIST!” Ha to my critics!

      But my lists are flexible, and usually just deal with one week ahead. The page after the last day of my week says Next Week. If something hits me, and I don’t want to be bothered with it that week, it goes in Next Week, to be dealt with then (including grocery items I’m running low on). And if someone calls with unexpected plans, I simply consult my list and find another day to do the things I’d originally planned.

      And I plan ahead for the little things that make my day go more smoothly. Taking the subway? As I’m walking to the station, I think about where I’m going, and whether it would be easier to be in the front or the back of the train when I exit. I plan my meals for the week, and make a grocery list, so shopping is faster. Before I sleep at night, I think about what I will wear to work the next day, so I don’t have to waste time in the morning staring into my closet. But I consider that "planning" with a small "p", not "Planning!"

      Make your long-term plans, certainly, but don't pin your whole existence on them. Instead, take each day as it comes. Be prepared for the unexpected, but don’t waste your energy ---and your ability to enjoy the day IN THE MOMENT---by wishing and hoping for something that may never come to pass. Okay?

(Oh, dear, this has been terribly serious. I promise more levity in my next entry!)