Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. That’s become one of my favorite expressions.
I appreciate it all the more because until very recently I was a “planner.” I mistakenly thought I was in control of my life. I subscribed to the notion that when you play by the rules, do the right things (study hard, apply yourself, vote, eat nutritious food, exercise, etc.), that when you show compassion and help those less fortunate, life rewards you with goodness.
I was reminded when infertility raised its ugly head more than a decade ago that life can also deliver badness, and lots of it. That’s when I lost what was left of my innocence. I still find it hard to believe that after we conscientiously followed all the rules that we didn’t achieve what we planned — first naturally and then with a team of experts — the pregnancy and delivery of our very own child. We each had contributing “factors” but the doctors put us in the “unexplained” category of infertility. No amount of planning was going to make a difference for us. It was futile to assume otherwise.
Two and half years ago, while I was stomping around and cursing the gods that left me barren while all around me babies were conceived easily and delivered joyfully, more badness arrived.
My sister-in-law was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Coincidentally she and Dana Reeve, both the same age, were diagnosed within weeks of each other. Neither had the conventional characteristics of a lung cancer patient. The doctors could offer no explanation. They were just unlucky. Both fought valiantly with all available treatments. They died just days and an ocean apart. They each left children behind. In Ireland, a six-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy lost their mother.
When we arrived at their house from the airport I did my best to try to keep a stiff upper lip. I wanted to demonstrate to my niece and nephew that they were far from alone. We and many others would be there to help them through their nightmare. At the funeral home my niece held my hand tightly. When we disappeared for a few minutes into the bathroom she caught me wiping my eyes and asked if I was sad. I nodded yes and stooped down to her level to give her a hug. She whispered in my ear, “when I’m sad, I try to think about other things to make me feel better.”
I couldn’t believe it. I had flown more than 4000 miles to comfort her and there she was comforting me.
Later that year she and her brother and father came to California to spend five weeks with us over their summer break. When we asked her if she liked flying 14 hours to visit us, she said with gusto, “Yes! You get to sleep whenever you want. They feed you food, and it’s an adventure!”
Their visit was a big adjustment for all involved. It was the first time we’d had that much time with children under our small roof. I came away with a new appreciation for the patience required of parents. I was at the office one day when my spunky niece was coloring at the table with her uncle. She stopped what she was doing to ask him a question. “Why don’t you and Auntie Pam have any kids?”
Without missing a beat, my dear husband responded, “Well, we tried but we couldn’t.”
My niece puzzled over the response for a minute, started coloring again and said, “well, that’s okay, because we all have each other.”
Again. My niece cut to the chase and sized up the situation in the best way she knew how. We often say that she was born without a rear view mirror. She only sees and experiences life unfolding in front of her.
We’re going to Dublin on Wednesday to celebrate Christmas. It will be bittersweet. We get to spoil our now eight-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew. But we’ll miss hearing my sister-in-law singing in the kitchen and playfully teasing her husband.
Life, as we know, is full of surprises — some good, some bad. That’s why I don’t obsess with planning anymore.
When I finally accepted this year that children were not in the cards for us, infertility tried to conquer me once and for all. I fought back. And as I did, I grew stronger in realizing that infertility’s greatest allies are ignorance, shame and hopelessness. That’s quite a force to reckon with. I’ve taken down shame and I’ll continue to battle ignorance because there’s plenty to be gained by enlightening those in the dark.
As for hopelessness, well, in 2008 I’m taking a page out of my niece’s playbook. I’m going to look ahead to new adventures because, as she said best, “we all have each other.”
P.S. I won’t be posting from Ireland as my brother-in-law has already warned me that my niece has planned every minute of our visit. Wishing you all the happiest of holidays. See you next year….
December 17, 2007 3:39 pm
Pamela – what a perfectly lovely post and a great message to send as all head out to for the holidays. Hope your trip is splendid and as you complete 2007, know that you’ve accomplished much to benefit not only yourself, but others. I continue to admire and marvel. Love to you and Mr. PJ and look forward to seeing you in the new year…susan
December 17, 2007 3:54 pm
Your niece sounds like an old, wise soul.
I hope you enjoy your busy-ness and purposeful-ness during the coming weeks as you share your gifts on the other side of the Atlantic.
December 17, 2007 4:02 pm
I hope your niece is able to keep that beautiful mind for a long time to come and that no one will tarnish those thoughts of optimism.
Enjoy your trip and time off. I should add that I got your card and you are as lovely as I had imagined. Mr. PJ isn’t too bad, either…;)
December 17, 2007 4:19 pm
Merry Christmas to you! Enjoy the time with your family. 🙂
December 17, 2007 4:20 pm
I am so sorry about the loss of your sister-in-law. Your post brought tears to my eyes. Your niece certainly sounds wise and compassionate beyond her years. I know you will bring your family much happiness and cheer this holiday season. Happy holidays
December 17, 2007 4:57 pm
Thank you for sharing this wonderful post. And yes your niece is absolutely right. Enjoy your holidays!
December 17, 2007 5:35 pm
Oh Ireland!! Wow have a great trip. I hope your neice and nephew shower you with love and many holiday warmth.
December 17, 2007 5:35 pm
Enjoy your trip to Ireland. I think your niece has a very healthy outlook on life–definitely one for us to aspire to!
December 17, 2007 8:00 pm
Enjoy the trip!
December 17, 2007 10:03 pm
I adopted that John Lennon quote soon after the stillbirth of my dd. It’s my signature line on many of the Internet boards I’m on. I also like these two, along the same lines (& all three are in a sidebar on my blog site):
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.” — Gilda Radner
Have a wonderful Christmas holiday! Your niece sounds like a real treasure.
December 17, 2007 11:43 pm
This is a great post. We have so much to learn from children.
Have a wonderful and safe holiday.
December 17, 2007 11:46 pm
Safe travels . . . I hope you all enjoy the time together . . . having each other.
December 18, 2007 12:15 am
This post brought tears to my eyes. I hope when you come back from your visit, you will have more words of wisdom from your niece to share.
December 18, 2007 1:40 am
Your niece is a wise soul. Enjoy your Christmas, peace to your family in the here and now and those who have passed away.
Thank you for continuing to light the way….
December 18, 2007 1:58 am
Beautiful post. Kids amaze me. I hope you have a WONDERFUL Christmas!
December 18, 2007 7:18 am
Merry, merry Christmas, Pamela Jeanne. I hope it’s a beautiful one. When our hearts are ready, all kinds of things can happen. Bless you and all your family.
December 18, 2007 7:35 am
I can only imagine how bittersweet this visit will be. I hope at least some of it is just sweet, and restorative.
December 18, 2007 6:21 pm
I hope that you have safe travels and a wonderful holiday visit with your family.
December 18, 2007 10:52 pm
Thanks for a great reminder.
Enjoy your holidays with the special people in your life. They sound wonderful!
December 19, 2007 5:24 am
*i think i have sand in my eyes*
what a wise head on such young shoulders
December 19, 2007 9:50 am
Thanks for another very moving and thought-provoking post. Reminds me, too, what a gift it is to be healthy (IF aside). I’m going to make more of an effort in 08 to appreciate things like that.
Hope your holiday is a very wonderful one!
December 19, 2007 10:48 pm
I hope you have a wonderful holiday.
December 20, 2007 9:21 am
I mutter “The best laid plans…” to myself far too often these days.
December 20, 2007 4:33 pm
Your niece sounds like a wise and wonderful little girl. Have a safe and eventless flight and I hope you all enjoy the holidays and each other.
December 22, 2007 5:24 pm
This post brought tears to my eyes. Just beautiful. Your niece is a diamond in the rough. You are lucky to have her (and she to have you!).
God bless, Erin
December 23, 2007 5:01 am
I’ve been wondering how to comment on this for a while. It’s a beautiful story, heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. I hope your niece never loses her forward view.
December 24, 2007 4:49 pm
I agree your niece sounds like a lovely wise old soul. I hope you have a wonderful visit to lush green Ireland to enjoy the holiday season with loved ones. Wishing you peace and happiness in the coming year. ~luna
December 26, 2007 2:24 pm
This post made me think of the old expression: When we make plans, G-d laughs.
Hope your holidays hold more sweet than bitter. See you in the new year.
December 27, 2007 4:03 am
I hope your holiday with your family was as wonderful as it sounds like it would be. I wish we were all as wise as your niece- I guess this also goes along with that sweet innocence that children possess that we as adults forget- Happy Holidays