Nothing goes exactly 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 or late, leave too soon — or not soon enough. Complications, delays, bumps in the road are the companions to everything.
Then there are the things that almost happen. When I was recently back from Israel, I took a three-day weekend from my new job to visit friends in San Diego. I bought a new weekend carry-on bag. It’s still my favorite travel bag — and the bag was the best part of the trip.
I bought 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 departing flight never arrived. After my connecting flight in Salt Lake City departed, there was nowhere for me to go. I asked for 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. “I took a three-day weekend from work. I won’t get those hours back. I’m not interested in Los Angeles or anything that goes anywhere tomorrow. LA is more than 3 hours drive from San Diego and I don’t have a car. By the time I get there — if I got there — I’d have to turn immediately around and come back. I’ve had to spend money on taxis and lost my holiday time. All I’ve gotten in return is a long afternoon in an airport waiting room. If you can’t get me to San Diego today — direct and nonstop — return my money.”
I got my money back. After which I took a taxi home. I spent the weekend having a mini-orgy of self-pity. I never went to San Diego. Eventually, I lost touch with those friends and life moved on.
Our fondest illusion is control, the belief we’re in charge or at least, ought to be. We spend a staggering amount of effort trying to wrestle life into our own shape. How else can we succeed? You’ve got to be in charge, right?
The promise we get as children is one on which we build a world.
No matter what you want, no matter how unlikely it is or how unqualified you are, just try harder and you will get it.
It’s the biggest lie because it establishes a fundamental belief that if we do all the right stuff, we will get what we want.
It’s got to be true because our teachers, parents — pretty much everyone — told us so. Good work will be rewarded immediately. Kindness will be returned in kind. If we eat right, keep fit, avoid drugs, cigarettes, and booze, we’ll be healthy. Forever. All the stuff that happens to other people will not happen to us because we are special. Mom said so. Dad said so. My sixth-grade teacher said so. My IQ test says so.
From all the little stuff that goes wrong — flights cancelled, vacations rained out, to failed marriages and jobs lost, life and time strips us of the illusions with which we grew up. Injustice shows itself in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes, from tiny indignities to incomprehensible calamities. No one is immune. We learn we are passengers on the bus we call life. We aren’t driving and don’t even know what road we’re on. Nor have we any idea of the destination or the stops along the way.
Finally, I got it. The bus is going where it’s going, but outside, it’s beautiful. We don’t have to drive. We don’t need to control the bus. Where we are going is irrelevant.
It’s about the journey.