We read this in our local weekly newspaper: “Stefan Popa believes everything happens for a reason. And, the 17-year-old says, many of the good things that have happened to him came about with little or no planning. So, he has learned to minimize his expectations and make the most of life as it unfolds day by day.”
I’ve never liked what’s implied by “everything happens for a reason,” for it implies a rational God scripting our lives with some sort of purpose in His or Her mind. Nope, I don’t think it works that way, especially considering the horrible suffering in the world. But what does work, sometimes, is this: Something bad happens, and we try to make the best of it. This outcome, to my way of thinking, is not the reason that the bad thing happened.
The obvious example is Kim’s cancer, which we have used to enrich our appreciation of every morning that we wake up on the right side of the dirt to see what the sunrise is doing to the lake this day. In the process, it enriches our appreciation of each other. I say this knowing that this week Kim goes in for her round of blood tests, CT-scans and bone scans, followed by Friday’s appointment with her oncologist. I hope we don’t have to make the best of bad news.
Let’s look at a much smaller example. I am a creature of habit, which Kim points out to me from time to time. Most mornings I get up before Kim, reheat leftover coffee from yesterday (called, for some reason in Kim’s family’s past, “sudu”), set the breakfast table (not at all the same as cooking breakfast), and check the morning news on my computer. Harmless enough. And after dinner and dishes, I watch the evening news and then try to find a good movie for Kim and me on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Evening movie time means “off duty” – no more vacuuming, organizing stuff for out garage sale, watering our newly planted trees and wildflowers, etc.
Our routine was recently broken by a problem with our new television: the images on the screen would break into four compressed vertical versions of what was supposed to be one image. Sometimes it would fix itself after a while, sometimes not. I called Best Buy’s Geek Squad out to the house. They spent three hours installing a new “brain” for the television, but as they were packing up to leave, the television reverted to it’s four-layer image. And so they had to order a new part that they can’t install for a week, which means – gasp! – that I would have to change my after-dinner routine. I skipped the news, and we found that we could watch 20-30 minutes of a movie before the tv screen did its 4-slice thing. I countered by streaming old movies, figuring that we already knew the endings, so we watched about half of Bonnie and Clyde, in two half-hour chunks, before abandoning it so we did not have to watch them get (spoiler alert!) shot. And we enjoyed half of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in three chunks, not needing to see the ending. We watched all of Fargodespite the four squeezed verticals. Kim appreciated the way the landscapes looked when arranged that way.
What do we do in the evenings with the tv off? I read. Kim works on her day’s photos, including the newly arrived orioles and hummingbirds, and this evening, an indigo bunting. One night, after two days of moving five tons of field stones and ten yards of wood chips to build a path to our house, we went to bed at 9 o’clock. Some evenings we sit on the porch, sip our drinks, and talk about landscaping plans, our son’s wedding plans, plans for the trip to Traverse City for medical stuff followed by a return visit to a woods filled with wildflowers. These are plans. But as 17-year-old Stefan learned, lots of good stuff happens with little or no planning, or despite his planning. So he makes the most of life as it unfolds day by day.
Still, we make plans. I see no contradiction between making plans and making the most of the unexpected. The operant word here is “make”: “to bring into existence by shaping or changing material, combining parts, etc.” That’s what we do. We make.