No project goes as planned. No vacation is perfect. Some part of every meal will not be ready when the rest of the dishes are served. Guests come early, late, leave too soon, or not soon enough. Complications, delays, bumps in the road are the companions to everything.
So many things almost happen. When I was newly back from Israel, I took a three-day weekend from my very new job to visit friends in San Diego. I bought a new weekend carry-on bag (I love luggage). Got tickets to San Diego — not easy because most cross-country flights out of Boston go to Oakland, SF, or LA — none of which are close to San Diego.
I got to La Guardia airport, but the plane didn’t. I had a connecting flight in Salt Lake City. Four hours later, the plane was MIA. I demanded my money back
The perky young thing at the ticket counter explained, “These are non-refundable tickets. See? It says so right here. We can get you on a flight to Los Angeles tomorrow afternoon. How’s that?”
I was not feeling perky. More like an Arnold Schwarzenegger character about to do serious damage to an airport.
“I took a three-day weekend from work. I won’t get those hours back. I’m not interested in Los Angeles. It’s more than 3 hours drive from San Diego and I don’t have a car. By the time I got there — if I got there — I’d have to turn right around. I’ve had to spend money on taxis, lost my holiday time. All I got is a long afternoon in a waiting room. I want a plane to San Diego. Direct, nonstop because I already missed my connecting flight — or my money back. Now.”
I got the money. Took a taxi home. Spent the weekend feeling sorry for myself. Never made it San Diego and eventually lost touch with those friends.
Our fondest illusion is control, that we’re the designers of our destiny. It’s the greatest promise we get as kids, and the biggest lie of all, that if we do “life” right, we can get what we want.
We know — because our teachers and our parents and everyone told us — that good work gets rewarded. Kindness will be returned. If we eat right, keep fit, exercise, avoid drugs, cigarettes and alcohol, we’ll be healthy forever. The bad things won’t happen to us. We will live happily ever after.
From little stuff that goes wrong — flights cancelled, vacations rained out — to failed marriages and jobs lost, we get stripped of illusions. Injustice comes in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes, from tiny indignities to incomprehensible calamities. No one is immune.
Sooner or later, it becomes clear. We are passengers on the bus of life. We aren’t driving. We don’t even know what road we’re on, and have no idea of the destination. After a lifetime of trying to drive, I get it. The bus is going where it’s going. It is what it is.
It’s not where you end up. It’s a journey. I might as well enjoy it.