Living life in a Plan “B” world
John Lennon once said something to the effect that life is what happens when you’re making plans. I used to envy those who seemed to have all their plans locked up tight, marching down a straight path toward “the goal.” Most people I know are a lot like me (law of attraction?) – walking about with some general plans, stumbling onto something, pursuing it, and hoping that it all works out. And when it doesn’t? Well, that’s what Plan “B” is all about.
My daughter, Hannah, and I are crazy about a movie/documentary entitled “Buck.” It details the life an abused boy who grew up to be one of the foremost horse trainers in the U.S. today. In-bedded in the film is a quote from Buck’s foster mom – “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”
Flexibility, though a necessary part of anyone’s attributes, seems to be getting rarer these days. I think it’s linked with compromise in a lot of peoples’ minds and we all know how foreign that concept is. We don’t seem to want our politicians to compromise, we want our food to be uncompromised, and we’ll give no quarter to anyone who negotiates anything. All the sudden, one of the chief attributes of America’s civic life for the last 200 years is about to collapse. We now cater to the extremes.
Of course, there was that Civil War thing. Civil war is pretty much a struggle for a “reboot.” Sometimes those reboots in life are necessary, but they are always costly. And they always involve unintended consequences. In other words, lots of Plan “B’s.”
It’s almost never what we know that trips us up, it’s what we should have known, what we didn’t see, the things we had no earthly idea about. And then we are afflicted with the COWS of life – could ‘a, ought ‘a, would ‘a, and should ‘a. Isn’t it amazing how clear we can see things in hindsight – maybe. Except we keep making the same mistakes.
John Calvin, the Reformation theologian, wrote that the human imagination is an idol factory. Soren Kierkegaard put a little kinder – we’re all walking around with a God-sized hole in our lives that we keep seeking to fill. My observation of God is that he relentlessly seeks us out, destroying the idols we continue to fill our lives with, until we see him.
Like Dante, the Poet/Pilgrim of the Divine Comedy, we find ourselves in a dark wood, with the path to the light blocked by terrors and the only way out is through. And that is when God gives us our Virgil, our guide.
Life is not meant to be lived alone. In the creation myth, Adam is created first purposefully so he can realize the pain of loneliness. Eve completes Adam (Adam completes Eve?). Human companionship is a requisite part of beginning to be whole. As an aside, the reason we are all Plan “B” people is because our first parents – A&E – messed it up. They wanted the still more mythical, mystical “more” – knowledge, and with knowledge, choices. Want to make someone miserable? Give them an overabundance of choices.
The gift that we can give another is the gift of companionship. But therein lies the shoals upon which we run aground. The best description of marriage I’ve run across goes like this – two shipwrecks looking for a safe harbor. We’re like a group of porcupines seeking warmth on a cold night. The closer they get, the greater the chance of pain. Companionship, friendship, love, they all have the same capacity for causing pain.
And so what do we do? Forgive. Woe the person who bears every wrong ever done them. They will destroy everything around them. We all have forgiveness issues, because we are all Plan “B” people. But being able to forgive someone even when they do not, will not, ask for it is the most freeing thing one can do. Forgiveness in this realm is the surrender of the right to vengeance. It doesn’t mean being a doormat. It does entail loving yourself enough to love your neighbor correctly. And when someone asks for it, grant them the mercy of forgiveness. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Jesus always has a way of making the point clear.
It means seeking forgiveness when we inevitably screw up in life. The Prayer Book states that God’s chief attribute is to have mercy. The COWS of life will haunt us to our graves unless we release the bitterness, forgive, and accept forgiveness. It will certainly mean finding someone to walk the path with us, however imperfect they maybe. And it may mean going through a dark wood, facing the fears, failings, and idols of our lives in order to emerge in the light of an Easter that is waiting for us.