Best Laid Schemes
A less famous borrowing from Robert Burns, in title and perhaps in theme
Did you ever get a big, great idea for your life? An idea that felt like a fantastic way to jump start your life a little bit, put some oomph into the living. A way to make meaning out of all those days, before they add up and turn into time passed. A way to thrive, rather than survive, perhaps. Well, imagine you find this idea, whatever it happens to be for you: getting ripped, running a marathon, finally reading a big stack of books, starting an extensive art project, or small business, the beginning of an academic endeavor, or a new job.
Suddenly, you are hit by a metaphysical bus. The impact is immediate, but the damage happens slowly. It’s a full on collision, but it does not happen in real time (hence, the metaphysical nature of the bus). It’s a full on collision, and it alters your reality, and throws you off the path (perhaps literally and metaphorically) that you have begun to carefully cultivate. You know, theoretically, that you can always recover from this accident and injury, but you’re not sure how long it will take or how often you’ll be able to firmly grasp reality in the meanwhile. In the midst of a life-changing moment where you are about to dive into being yourself, you are interrupted by a slow, traumatic event that invades your life and the lives of those people whom you care most about. It is its own life-changing moment, and you have to make space for it.
So, you alter — or even abandon — your original great idea, or parts of it. You come up with a different idea, one that hopefully still points you in your right direction, still propels you forward. A new, different idea, that can work under the confines of recovery from a metaphysical bus accident, and still carry you through your journey to finding yourself, becoming you.
There’s an additional problem you have not considered: that dang bus doesn’t just stop, give you insurance information, and move on. It’s going to back up over you, from behind, and then hit you again while you’re staring right at it. Maybe even more than once, depending on how you define metaphysical impact (I will allow this to be a personal choice). On top of that, you realize more clearly: the bus hasn’t just hit you. It has hit those around you, in the closest ring of life’s concentric circles of community, spreading outward. [This is a reference to Bronfenbrenner’s concentric circles theory; a method for understanding socio-psychic development.] You are not even experiencing the worst of the impact; the bus itself is actually someone else’s experience that is colliding with your own. This has pros and cons. It means more people are suffering, but it also means you are not alone; in fact, you never were.
So, once again, you seek a new idea. A way to seek mindfulness, gratitude, and purpose. An attempt at grasping the silver linings of life, a project to make meaning and maintain momentum as you adjust to living with the permanent scars from this bus injury — for you and the people you love.
I’ve written extensively, I feel, about the experience of my mom’s death, the grief from before, during, and after. This is another in a long string of metaphors I have read, invented, or found and reimagined to best help me explain that experience, and to hopefully universalize it a bit for people experiencing all different kinds of “bus crashes”. This writing started, in fact, as part of that whole “big idea” thing. For me, the first big idea was rabbinical school. But I noticed, in the wake of the first bus crash — my mom being diagnosed with cancer — that time was still seemingly slipping away, and I wasn’t sure I was truly becoming my rabbinic self, or even becoming at all. So, my next big idea was to start a blog, on my 27th birthday. The plan was to execute a curated list of weekly challenges and write about my experience. I saw it as a way to continue mindfully experiencing life, really to have a life, as I settled into my initial journey of living life amidst the wreckage of the crash. However, again: the bus struck its final blow, my Ima died, and the whole universe shifted; all of reality was tilted on its axis. In actuality, reality had already been tilted on its axis, but it took this final strike to realize it. I was now living my life with an impressive surreal quality.
Living in the surreality, as I like to call it, has taught me things I didn’t know I would, or even could, learn about my life and myself. I had to abandon those big ideas, as I had initially conceived them, because they did not fit. And I had to take a big, long break from finding big ideas, because it turns out sometimes to experience reality mindfully, you have to just sit in it, and marinate for a while. You have to let the surreality seep in, and you have to deal with the recovery as your big idea. To be clear: I believe the recovery is never over. It does change. And as I have lived through this tragic string of events, I feel like I did find myself — a bit by accident, a bit on purpose. But no bits through one big idea or plan.
As I said, I’ve written about grief, tragedy, and death. At length. I could go on and on and on, truly. Seriously, if I wasn’t hungry for dinner I may just keep exploring this metaphor all night. But then I probably couldn’t ever publish this, or make sense out of it, and ok we get the point, I’m on the dangerous edge of rambling territory. Conversely, I have not written as much as I feel could be useful or meaningful about the rest of my life-shaping moments that brought me here, brought me to myself. I have barely touched how things like family, Torah, Judaism, community, and pop culture (etc etc) all make up who I am and have all helped me find my way, in the midst of life happening. I have only scratched the surface as to how and why these pieces at play in my life continuously contribute to my becoming, my me-ness, my muchness (thank you Lewis Caroll). I don’t think I’ve made clear how and why all of it matters, not just for myself but for others.
I think my original big ideas, boiled down, used to be a plan for purely being myself, for seeking my whole and going from there. Once myself felt like it couldn’t be whole again, I had to relearn what that looked like. I’m not sure if I’ve found it, and perhaps that’s part of the point, but I will keep writing about it. Because that is only a part of the bigger idea, which is how me, myself, and I exist as part of a whole — my whole self is a puzzle piece in a much larger picture. I’ll keep writing, so that hopefully, people can connect. Because that’s the true big idea, isn’t it? Threads of connection, of community. How can I reach you, and how can you reach me? In the famous words of the sensational Disney Channel original, High School Musical: we’re all in this together. And, this could be the start of something new.
I hope this metaphor reaches you, as the whole world now lives through this altered reality. I hope you can find yourself in it, somehow. I hope it helps you feel connected; I hope it helps you thread your story with others, to find a place to put your puzzle piece. I hope I find a way to end this long essay without feeling incredibly cheesy, but that seems to be a lost cause. Or is it? I hope not.