“By noon, the island had gone down in the horizon; and all before us was the wild Pacific.” –Omoo, Henry Melville
Right after my daughter turned two, a playgroup mom confided to me that she was very concerned with getting her child into the right preschool so that she would feed into the right private elementary, which would feed her into the best private high school, or perhaps boarding school, which would land her at Harvard, thus securing her success and happiness forevermore.
“Harvard,” I recall repeating. “But what if your child doesn’t want to go to Harvard?”
She gave me a long, hard look. “Well, then not Harvard exactly. But a similar school.” She moved on and never spoke to me again.
I disappointed because I had some follow-up questions. Like: What if your child decides to become a fighter pilot or artist or rancher and doesn’t want to go to college? What if she is like Bill Gates? Or what if she simply isn’t very smart? What if she falls in with the wrong crowd and fails out of boarding school? Or ends up in rehab? How would THAT affect her Harvard application?
In retrospect, I suspect that things might work out for this mom and her little girl and Harvard. At this very moment, the child is probably practicing her Mandarin and writing monogrammed Boatman Geller thank you notes. But for the rest of us, a million things could happen along the way, even to the best laid plans.
Like what happened to me.
My marriage imploded on a Thursday afternoon in September 2011. It all began around 3 p.m. when I opened an email account. I t then brought my son to baseball practice as if nothing was wrong, helped my daughter with her homework, and asked my husband to leave our house by 6 p.m. After nearly 16 years of marriage, my husband packed a small bag and left the house without a word. He knew there was nothing he could say that would make it okay for him to live in our home anymore.
Those three hours marked the end of our marriage and the loss of my innocence. I also lost my long-held conviction that nice, smart people with good manners and modestly impressive SAT scores are guaranteed to sail through life like on a picture-perfect J. Crew photoshoot.
I was young. I believed I was invincible: immune to betrayal, scandal, and financial ruin. I never stopped to consider what Santa Barbara author and psychologist David Richo has identified as the “givens” in life:
- Things don’t always go according to plan.
- Things are not always fair.
- Things change and end.
And the biggie: We need to accept that anything can happen to anyone. At any time. The anyone includes you, me, and the most seemingly blessed and most perfect people we know.
So, what does Dr. Richo say we are supposed to do when faced with the “anything?”
- The best laid plans often go astray. No plan survives contact with reality. Adapt, improvise, flex, adjust your sails, innovate. Things turn out best for those who make the best of how things turn out. Plans are useless but planning is invaluable.
- Cultivate an attitude of “You win some; you lose some” while working for justice.
- Nothing lasts forever, every beginning is the start of an end. Relationships end, people die. Seasons turn, things change. Get used to it. Learn to let go gracefully, change and grow yourself.
Obviously this can’t happen overnight. Grieving a loss, or accepting a terrible situation, or really believing that “you win some; you lose some” in the face of terrible injustice takes a long time. Like everything else on this crazy roller coaster called divorce, the only way out is through. It’s hard work, but I just have to believe that it’s going to be worth it in the end.
I think of Nora Ephron after her second marriage imploded. With two young children (like me) and a traumatic marriage breakdown (like me), she could easily have descended into self-pity (like me). Instead, her advice to other women in similar situations was to “Get over it!” – and she sure did. She fought back and wrote Heartburn.
And she also wrote this:
“For a long time the fact that I was divorced was the most important thing about me. Now its not.”
And THAT is my prize. When it will finally happen, I just don’t know.