My niece recently finished high school. She’s headed to university in a few weeks and has her plan in place. Undergraduate degree in speech pathology, maybe a second major in psychology, then graduate school, then work in a school setting with children, particularly autistic children. Before she gets married she’d like to travel to all 50 states and overseas. She thinks she knows where she’d like to live, when she’d like to get married, how many children she’d like to have. She’s got the room planned, talks with her new roommate almost daily, knows where she wants to put everything in the room, what activities she wants to be involved with at university. She’s worked hard during high school, applied for and received many scholarships, considered and rejected various career paths.
It's impressive and a little exhausting.
I’m pretty sure I had a similar plan for my life when I was her age. Different, perhaps, but still just as detailed. I was convinced I would have it all (which at the time involved being an investigative journalist with an overseas assignment) and confident the world was just waiting to embrace me with open arms. The plan I created in my head was exciting and a little dangerous full of promise and very little disappointment.
Then life happened. And it is still happening.
For so many, the past few months have been ones of disappointment and anxiety. Plans for weddings and vacations have been reconfigured. We’ve found new ways to teach our children, to go to work, even to do the most mundane and basic tasks like shop for groceries. And we look out into the next few months, the ones we had planned on being “normal” and realize they will be anything but normal as we knew it.
My niece is headed off to college that looks different from what she had planned. She’s going with a supply of face masks and hand sanitizer and a promise of online classes, pared-back “welcome to university” activities and rooms that have been arranged by the university to provide maximum social distance. The excitement of meeting new people is dimmed by the knowledge that faces will be hidden behind masks, some people will be reluctant to mingle and others will be only too glad to mingle, maskless, and flouting science. I’m sending my kids off to college and graduate school with masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, pulse oximeters and thermometers, and questions about their plans. One is moving into an apartment he has never seen in person thanks to the virus. As a music performance major, he’s wondering what the future looks like not only for class but for a career where he would work closely with others and for a live audience. My other son is moving halfway across the country to start graduate school where he has a teaching commitment, but no idea what form that teaching will take – online, in person, or hybrid. And no idea how many students will decide to take a year off or live at home rather than on campus.
While this virus may be the thing that’s disrupting our plans right now, we all know that this is what life is. Look back on that plan you had in high school, or last year, and you may see that you are exactly where you thought you would be. If you’re like me, you will see that life took some turns you didn’t expect. Maybe kids before you planned, or no kids even though your plan included a big family. Perhaps you envisioned a career in a field that you later decided just wasn’t for you. Or you decided love was more important than career and you shelved your plans and moved across the country with the person that makes getting up worthwhile.
While this pandemic and the fallout from the pandemic has caused a great deal of turbulence and anxiety, it’s also forced us to re-evaluate. What is really important today? What is nice to have as compared to what is essential? People have chosen to skip big weddings because being married was more important than the party. We’re having picnics rather than going out to dinner because being together is more important than the food we eat while we do it. We’re checking in on each other because now more than ever we realize how much we care about our friends and family.
Our plans have been distilled to their very essence. What is most important, what do I really need, how will I get through today. We can spend a lot of time looking back at the plans we had, and hold onto the sorrow and maybe the anger that comes with having to leave those plans behind. Or, we can work at accepting the new reality. Live mindfully today, in this moment, with these circumstances.
Congratulations to all the graduates (especially my niece!), and newlyweds, and new parents, and job starters and job quitters, and everyone else who is adapting their plan. You are resilient, you are capable and you are most of all, even though it may not be exactly like you planned, but you are making it work!