The other day I was driving toward our house to meet the bus. I was coming around a bend that always gives me pause, something about it makes me brace for a child darting into the road. One night, I was coming home very late, just as I came up the hill to the bend, a massive deer loped into the road. There were no horns, but it was massive, so I always refer to it as a male in my mind. The speed limit on this road is 45, but I always go a bit slower. I took my foot off the gas as he stopped in his tracks and looked at me. A huge moon shone down on us and time seemed to stand still. After a time he walked on toward the far side of the road and disappeared into the woods. Just beyond the bend and in sight of the bus stop I found myself looking to the end of the road.
My mind was swirling with how no matter the intensity of our belief that our story is central, there are other people fighting a fight, nursing a hurt, or accepting the unthinkable—the fifth day after your wife has died, a promise of a few months cut short by a swift, hospice supported march to nevermore, a pink slip. The list really does go on and my own rhythm of ruminating on the what ifs was cut short by the idea of people lined side-to-side and down the road as far as my eye could see. Each person, from their feet to their head, distinct from the one beside them, but each with a story as important and as raw as the next.
I shook my head feeling silly. How do you explain that a vision of bodies in the road reminded you that we are all indeed precious? How do you articulate that for one brief moment you had total clarity that your life can matter and your heart can hurt and that even as you endure that, you can acknowledge that others experience things, some worse, some more wonderful than yours, without diminishing your own struggle? Realizing the vastness of things, the number of people here and gone and still to come, doesn’t make my sorrow fade nor does it temper the exquisite joy of making the house ring with the peals of my daughters’ delighted laughter, what it does is it lets me breathe.
I am not the only person who careens through the day trying to manage the details and demands of school, while also trying to locate and hang on to the place between anger and apathy. The truth, gleaned from the emotional uncorking of friends and the strange roadside realization, is that everyone is just getting by, enduring rough patches and devouring joy as it comes. There is no failure in what we are doing, it really just is.
This afternoon I was sorting papers and trying to get myself transitioned from work to home, I’d set the girls up in the back yard, the dog was happy, my work to-do-list was done, and I was almost there. I was headed out to join the girls when I saw one last paper. It looked like it had a chart on it and I thought that maybe it was work notes. As I stepped closer I saw that it was written in Briar’s hand, her recently, more legible and exacting hand. It was titled, “Watermelon Plan.”
I was so completely caught off guard. We’d sat together doing the seed prep, filling the containers with soil, poking little holes, and then painstakingly placing the seeds in them. Briar had been in charge of the cucumber seeds, so it hadn’t occurred to me that she was paying any attention at all to the other seeds. After 45 minutes of effort she asked to play with her sisters, upon hearing us say yes, she darted out and was gone. I have no idea when she made the watermelon plan or whether her sisters were with her as she did it.
I do know that she beamed when I told her that I found the plan and photographed it. She looked at me with those blue eyes of hers and said, “You found it? How? Where? When?” I smiled and shook my head as I do when she rapid fires questions my way. “I like cucumbers and I am glad that I planted them, but I really love watermelons. So even if they don’t grow, we can get some at the market, maybe those seeds would work better. The plan is good, but we can change it. You can always change your plan, it’s just a start.” And just like that, she dashed back out to a rousing, made-up game of perilous tag she had invented with her sisters, leaving me standing by a hopeful flat of planted seeds.
The plan is good, but we can change it.
Whatever we are doing or conquering or fearing somehow falls loosely into our plan, which does not succeed or fail based on how closely it sticks to our first understanding. Plans change and people change every single day.
It’s ok. We are ok. We just need to change the plan.