So much is jangling around inside my head this morning. Over three weeks ago my husband and I left on a two-week vacation — we slipped away to an undisclosed location where no one recognizes us and we could begin to recognize one another again. We spent hours together, just the two of us. It was quiet; it was restful; it was lovely. At the end of the two weeks, I jetted off, instead of coming straight home, to a week of AP English Literature Exam scoring with hundreds of strangers. Inside of those three weeks, I read a couple of books and several articles, I listened to podcasts, I watched meaningless television, I had long, and short, conversations in person and over the phone, and I read thousands of words written by high school students.
Now I’m home.
I’m back at my desk in my little house by the river. My dog is under my desk at my feet. I’m halfway through the first cup of tea, and I am trying to get the jangling to coalesce into some kind of meaning.
What do you learn from three weeks outside of your routine? If you sort all the pieces into piles, what do you have?
First, I have the realization that the things that I planned — the ones that we just had to do– weren’t the ones that I valued the most. In fact, the sandwich that I just had to eat from that particular restaurant did taste delicious, but its gluten- and dairy-rich delicious-ness left me feeling miserable for the next twenty-four hours. The things that I thought would make the experience ‘perfect’ weren’t really the highlights. No, the unexpecteds, the ad libs, were the nuggets I will cherish — a last minute detour, a lunch time phone call, impromptu sorbet right before lunch.
This plan-happy girl needs to be reminded from time to time that her plans aren’t always the best and that she can’t plan for everything. In fact, often the best parts of life are the ones I didn’t, or couldn’t anticipate.
In the weeks leading up to the AP Reading, I was feeling a bit apprehensive because I had been assigned a random hotel roommate. Although, you might not expect it, I tend a little to introversion. While my career has involved standing up in front of students, cracking jokes and calling out bad behavior, I truly love my end-of-day quiet alone time. What if my roommate loved to chat until all hours of the night? What if she was a slob? What if her personality got on my nerves. It’s not like we would just have to get through a weekend. We would be co-existing for eight days!! I had a plan, though — if she was super creepy, I told myself, I would request a single room and just pay the difference. Phew! Glad I solved that dilemma.
Since I arrived at the hotel before she did, I situated my stuff, got myself registered, went for a swim, showered, and then waited…..She arrived on a different schedule, so we didn’t actually meet until almost 8pm on the first day. I quelled my anxiety by staying busy, of course, but my worries evaporated when she finally arrived. The Southern twang in her greeting — a virtual “Hi honey, I ho-ome!” — put me at ease even though I was already in pajamas, reading in bed.
Not for one minute did I feel that awkward let-me-ask-questions-to-get-to-know-you feeling. From the start we chatted like old friends, laughing over ridiculousness and tearfully sharing our hearts. We were ok being quiet together, too. I didn’t feel like I was imposing when I felt poorly and had to cash-in early. I didn’t feel like I had to explain myself or justify my actions. I felt like I was living with a sister. Probably my favorite moment of the week was the last night when our conversation went something like this:
“Hey, thanks for not being a creepy roommate.”
“Hey, thanks for not snoring.”
“And thanks for not being a slob or watching tv until 4 in the morning.”
“And thanks for not judging me for going to bed before 9.”
I couldn’t have hand-picked a better roommate.
So what’s the take-away here? Do I suddenly turn from my planner-ly ways and go forth in a life of abandon? (She says as she glances over at the to-do list she made for today and the one she made for this week.) Every teacher-fiber of my being loves to plan. In fact, two items on my to-do list involve planning — for the summer class that starts next week and for the new course I’m teaching in the fall. Writing lists and anticipating alternatives is in my DNA. I won’t ever not be a planner, but is there a way for me to plan for spontaneity? for margin that allows for ad lib? Of course! Many books have been written on the topic — I’ve read several!
Something about filling my days with plans reduces my anxiety. If I fill in all the spaces, I leave no room for the big scary unknown, but, also, if I fill in all the spaces, I leave no room for surprise, for serendipity, for spontaneity.
Leaving space is taking a risk.
Do I dare? Do I dare let myself sit quietly in the chair on my patio, watching nothing, anticipating nothing, expecting nothing? Do I dare have a day that’s not planned wall-to-wall with activity? What could happen?
I might eat sorbet before lunch. I might take a last-minute detour. I might make a new friend.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.