The Best Laid Plans

By Don Ortolano

I normally write about memories of my childhood in New York. This is not a memory, yet it feels very much like a life lesson. In many ways, what I talk about here will, one day, be a memory. It certainly did not play out as expected, which is part of the “lesson learned”.

For the past year and a half, Rhonda and I have been planning a “reunion” with our kids. The last time we were all together was in 2017, so this was something we were all very much looking forward to.

A lot of time... a lifetime, has passed since the childhood depicted in my standard memory writings. We have three grown kids now; two girls and a boy. The two girls are married with their own families, each living on an opposite end of the country; one in Seattle and one in Virginia. Our son is in the US Navy, and until recently, assigned to one of its carriers in San Diego. He recently re-enlisted, prompting a change in duty station from California to Virginia.

This is what ignited our reunion idea. As he traveled from California to Virginia, he would have some leave time to spend with us in Texas. What a perfect time to get his two sisters here for a long weekend of fun and memories. The three of them are extremely close and have established a very unbreakable bond of love. This would be perfect timing. Plans were set in place, airline tickets purchased and we even had their favorite places to eat all lined up for a fun-packed four day reunion.

Our son made it here from San Diego with no issues. It was late February, so he even had time to drive to Oklahoma for a few days to see some old friends before leaving for the East Coast.
As March dawned and we started moving closer to our reunion date (March 19), things began to rapidly change. The Coronavirus outbreak began to wreak havoc on everyday life. Warnings not to fly, fears of travel bans, and overall uncertainty began to be daily fare.

Then, one night I woke up shivering while soaked with sweat. I had no energy, couldn’t eat and couldn’t get any sleep. The shivering/sweating combination continued for almost six days before Rhonda said, “Enough is enough,” and dragged me to the ER. I was diagnosed with a pretty bad case of pneumonia.

All this happened as reunion day drew closer. We discussed it and agonized over it for a few days before finally deciding to pull the plug on the anticipated trip. It was a hard, sad, but correct call. My pneumonia grew worse, all the fun things we planned to do and the restaurants we had planned to go to shut down. I spent the remaining days of our son’s leave very sick. He left on March 25th for his new assignment in Virginia. As he pulled out of our driveway that morning, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What just happened?” It all seemed so surreal. Over a year of planning and anticipation went ever so quickly “up in smoke.”

The whole series of unlikely events pressed home a truth which I had known, but had apparently forgotten: nothing is guaranteed, including tomorrow. All the best laid plans can change in the blink of an eye. Clearly, well-thought-out plans are a good thing. The key is to realize that just because they are well laid out with the proper attention to detail does not mean that they will happen. Life is so fluid and things change rapidly. Make and have good plans, just don’t rely on them happening. Always remember that things out of our control “happen.”

Stop anticipating tomorrow and enjoy today. Make the very most of the moment you are living in. It’s a moment that will not happen again. That sunset, that night sky, that quiet moment alone with the universe - treasure that.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.

If you truly want to understand living in the moment, look into the eyes of your pet. Notice how they simply look at you, wide-eyed, in the moment. They are not thinking about tomorrow’s goals and plans, they are looking into the eyes of the one who loves them, who sustains them, who protects them, right now. For them, that moment is enough. That’s the way you and I should look at our Savior.

Sobering? Perhaps, but also liberating. It’s freedom to stop stressing about tomorrow and concentrate on what you have in hand... the blessings of today. I really don’t want to think about all the “now” time I have wasted in my life anticipating tomorrow.

I’m quite certain that as soon as the present crisis ends, we will start thinking about another reunion.  We will start making other plans. I just hope and pray that this time I hold those plans a bit more loosely, understanding that I may need to let go.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to look into the eyes of my cat... and appreciate this moment.
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