My childhood was somewhat chaotic, and I learned early on that planning something did not necessarily mean it would happen. There were too many moving parts and too many things that were beyond my mother’s control. My takeaway was, don’t bother to plan because whatever I plan is unlikely to happen.
I took that belief into adulthood, and it wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I planned my first vacation—a windjammer cruise in Maine. I made the initial deposit in January, for a trip that was to happen in August, and then I waited for whatever was going to go wrong to go wrong.
Everything went according to plan, though, until the day my friend and I were driving north on I-95 and an overturned truck somewhere in Connecticut closed the expressway for five hours. Fortunately, I had planned an extra day, so we still had plenty of time to get to Maine, board the Schooner J & E Riggin and have a wonderful week of sailing along the coast.
My childhood belief was shattered by that trip. It turned out I could plan a vacation and it would happen.
Since then, I have planned and taken many trips. Sometimes there are hitches (like the time I miscalculated the twenty-four-hour clock conversion and almost missed my plane to Poland), but I take the attitude that everything that happens is part of the adventure (like the time I missed a connection in Heathrow and was invited to stay for afternoon prayer in the chapel).
Fast forward to the year I was to turn sixty and began to plan how I would celebrate that milestone birthday. I decided on two things—a return trip to Poland and a thirty-day silent retreat (something I had wanted to do for about fifteen years but having the time and money had not coincided).
I spent a few months of that year exploring options, and then, about four months before my birthday, my best friend was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of a non-curable brain cancer. Suddenly, my plans seemed inconsequential and were set aside.
Jim and I celebrated my sixtieth birthday at a friend’s condo overlooking the Jersey Shore, and when the dolphins appeared mid-afternoon, Jim said, “They are singing happy birthday to you.” It was the last birthday I celebrated with him.
Ten years have passed, and I have still not returned to Poland nor gone on a thirty-day retreat; I have done other travel but neither of those.
Now I am looking forward to turning seventy in the fall and thinking how I will celebrate this milestone. I am planning to go to Europe for an extended time in 2022 and am enjoying the researching and planning, fully aware that there are many moving parts and things that are beyond my control.
Cancer and COVID have taught me to live life to the full. It is good to make plans—and to remember to let go of control and enjoy the adventure.