The investment firm ran a commercial with this narrative. A young couple gets married, is shown rushing to the hospital for their first child, then depicted going to activities with young children, then at lunch with a giant extended family, then as an older couple smiling at each other as they meet with what turns out to be a broker for said investment company. The voice over says, “The rewards of a life well-planned.” The suggestion is that if you plan well, you’ll be like the couple in the commercial, free of concern and apparently unscathed by the vicissitudes of life. THAT’S the secret to life! Planning well! And with THAT investment firm!
Folks, whoever wrote that commercial probably isn’t 30 years old yet.
You see, quite a few of my plans didn’t pan out. I planned to have both my sisters until our ripe old ages, but pancreatic cancer happened to our older sister and ruined that plan. I planned on being a really BIG church pastor, but pulpit committees didn’t show up in droves, and then a deepening spiritual awakening in my own life made that plan seem vapid and shallow. I planned to stay married to one woman my whole life, but, alas, we divorced. I planned on a savings that would support a retirement at about 65, but the crash of 2008 cratered much of my portfolio and left me wondering about whose plan that was.
Then prostate cancer happened. Not my plan. And a cancerous tumor on my tonsil. Not my plan. Radiation and chemo therapy? Not in my plan.
And the feeling of helplessness that overwhelmed me right after my surgery felt like a psychic imposition almost as uncomfortable as the physical pain and discomfort. I had planned on being much more heroic than I felt as my wife pumped “Ensure” into my NG tube. Indeed, the writers of the aforementioned commercial wrote from the perspective of untested egos rooted still in the illusion that life can be controlled – if one has discipline and the right attitude and makes the right plans.
It struck me then as it strikes me now: a huge part of the terror we feel when we face surgery is knowing we’ll be helpless, incapable of making plans and following through with them and in desperate need of others to care for us when we, ourselves, cannot control things.
Which brings me to what you CAN plan on. When you’ve nurtured a community of friends, when you’ve invested in loving those with whom you come in contact every day, when you’ve paid daily attention to deepening your relationship with your immediate family, your partner in particular, you can plan on their strength to embrace you when you don’t have it yourself.
Look around you. Invest in those people. Love them. As the director of a recent in-depth study of human development said, “There’s nothing more important than leaning into relationship.” Indeed. As I’ve said elsewhere, independence doesn’t happen in nature. INTERDEPENDENCE does. Lean into relationships, because the only thing you can reliably plan on is unplanned things happening – and when they do, you’ll have the strength of community. You can plan on that.