The minutemen

Sometimes, the best plans in life are the ones that are never made.

For those of you who know me, that statement might sound a bit strange. After all, I am a planner of the first degree. My calendar is a scheduling masterpiece, a colorful carpet of green (class), red (meetings), purple (work), blue (vocal), and orange (social). Sadly, the orange has been dwindling for the last few years, but I tell myself that it will someday make a comeback.

Ask me what I’ll be doing tomorrow, and I’ll be able to tell you exactly (as long as I check first). Ask me what my day looks like a week or even a month from now, and I’ll probably be able to answer with a similar degree of precision. I took a quick peek this morning and found that I already have appointments on the calendar through November 19 of this year. Seven months’ lead time may not sound like much, I suppose, but sometimes it blows my mind to think that I already know exactly where (and when) I’ll be sitting that day, when so much needs to happen between now and then.

I don’t need to take a personality test to know that I like things to be well planned because I like to be in control. The thought process is simple: I choose what to put on my calendar and tell people ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on what I know I can fit in. When that day rolls around, I know what to expect, since the schedule for the day has already been hammered out days in advance, and all I have to do is show up wherever my calendar tells me to be.

It’s not that I want every day to be the same; that would be boring. It’s just that when I wake up in the morning, I want to know with a high degree of certainty what will happen to me that day.

Writing it out, of course, this sounds not only completely unappealing but also hardly representative of control. Really, if my personal scheduling is controlled by the constraints of my calendar and my daily activities are directed by the same, isn’t my calendar in control of me?

Pretty much.

It’s taken me a long time to realize it, but this is the sort of calendar pride that goeth before a scheduling fall. Thinking that you control what happens to you in a day simply because you can move around blocks of color on your calendar is a big mistake that carries with it the potential for a meltdown.

Two years ago around this time, for example, my laptop was stolen in the middle of winter exams. When I say that everything in my life was in that computer, I’m not exaggerating—or so I thought at the time. Much of my college work, including class notes and working drafts, as well as all my photos, music, and (gasp!) appointments disappeared in the blink of an eye. In the midst of my anguish over this loss, I realized that I had no idea where I needed to be the next day. Without the ability to check my calendar, I wasn’t even sure of my class schedule, much less my irregular appointments. I called a friend with whom I worked closely in a student organization at the time, and she was able to give me what she knew to be the rough outline of my schedule for the next few days, but I received several e-mails over the next few weeks chastising me for failing to appear at meetings and other appointments I had no idea I had.

Indeed, the revenge of the calendar was harsh, and my initial outlook was bleak. Not learning my lesson, however (my skull can be a bit thick at times), I began to feel better once I was able to start scheduling things again. It wasn’t long before I had fully fallen into the same old trap—and this time, synchronized with e-mail!

Since that time, I’ve come to see that even without the catastrophic disappearance of a laptop, a calendar that is too tightly controlled will find other ways of lashing out. It may be the twenty-minute nap you schedule in the middle of the afternoon, only to wake up five hours later with three appointments blinking before your still-tired eyes. It may be the dread of facing yet another day in which everything is already determined for you and little is left up to chance. It may be the look of disappointment in your friend’s eyes when you decline yet another invitation because, after all, you’re “just too booked.”

Yes, letting the calendar take over can be like the subtle administration of a soporific by a kidnapper: you quickly slip under, only to wake up confused and groggy and miles from wherever you were before.

In the spirit of keeping things positive, though, I’ve also had a number of recent reminders of the joy that can be found in simply saying no to my calendar and all that goes with it. I’m talking about brief moments of spontaneity, in which whatever you choose to do is fun because you chose it—and delicious because unplanned.

Here’s one that stands out the most: the other day near the end of one of my shifts at work, a good friend and colleague invited me into one of our function rooms, where (unbeknownst to any of us) she and her husband had set out a beautifully simple spread of bread, cheese, meat, and wine. They had gathered up anyone who was still around the office and invited us all to come and share their dinner with them.

Did I have somewhere else to be at that time? Yes.

Did I skip it? Absolutely.

Moments like this don’t come along very often, I told myself, and there’s just no way you can turn this down. For me, it wasn’t even about the food (which was excellent). It was about the freedom of choosing to do one thing even when my schedule was telling me to do another. It was about the joy of sitting down to something that I hadn’t planned—that I couldn’t have planned, really—and enjoying the feelings of warmth, exuberance, and spontaneity that were flowing through the room. The conversation was stimulating, the wine more stimulating still…

And when I finally left more than an hour later, I realized that it didn’t matter what I was supposed to be doing during that time—or, rather, what mattered was that I had done exactly what I was supposed to be doing during that time.

It was funny, actually, because several of us began talking about the possibility of scheduling another gathering like this one. For once in my life, I was very averse to setting a date. Let’s just agree to do it again sometime and see when it happens! I thought to myself. Wouldn’t that be more fun?

Planning is still important, and there’s no denying that it would be highly irresponsible to blow off commitments every day in this fashion. However, let us never be so wedded to our schedule that we can’t allow it (and ourselves) to breathe a bit from time to time! My impromptu repast with my friends at work was the highlight of my week because when I temporarily freed myself from the constraints of time, time itself stood still.

Yes; even if we are frequently bound by our schedules’ demands, may we always remain minutemen—ready to accept the beautiful spontaneity of life at a moment’s notice! Because sometimes, any more than a moment’s notice would be too much.

Sometimes, the best plans in life are the ones that are never made.


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