I think about now. I think about tomorrow. But I don’t give much thought to yesterday.Yellowstone
Oh, if only that were true!!! Alas, there is something in my DNA that has predestined me to nostalgic tendencies. No matter how much I try to focus on the future or earnestly espouse the wonders of being “present to the present”- the past occupies an inordinate amount of space in my thoughts.
Perhaps it is because the past just proves to be so interesting – all the twists and turns life takes us on. In the moment, we miss out on some of the extraordinary happenings amid the ordinary, amid the chaos, amid the musts and shoulds of everyday life. It’s only upon reflection that the true meaning and essence of certain events comes to light.
It should be no wonder then that I am frequently surprised by life. If you had told me on New Year’s Eve 2021 what 2022 had in store for me, I would have guffawed at your naivete. I could never have fathomed that I would undergo major surgery in June, that I would have to learn to walk again and then proceed to hike over 200 miles in the months after, that one of my best friends would die, that my dog would be poisoned, and that I would cap the year with a spontaneous crazy adventure completely out of my norm! Nope, I did not see any of those things coming. As I look back on 2022, I am in awe that I am still standing.
But even the most foresighted among us will find themselves surprised, even stunned by what the headlights suddenly reveal on the road before them.
Robert Burns wrote despondently about the vagaries of life in 1785, ruing the calamity brought upon a field mouse’s carefully constructed nest as an oblivious farmer plowed his winter-ravaged field. Little did the mouse know when she awoke that morning to go about the business of securing nourishment and warmth for the day that her home would be destroyed by a farmer’s plow, upending her little family and no doubt changing the entire course of her existence. Goodness, she had plans!
“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley, (often go awry)
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”
Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men…. The saying is so familiar to us it rolls off our tongues without a moment’s thought when a change of plans forces us to change the course of our day-to-day existence of our well-planned lives. Think about it. Nature has been messing with even the most-prepared (or so we thought) of us. Brutal storms shut down life as we know it – from blizzards in Buffalo to floods in once fire-ravaged California. Think of all the plans upended.
And of course, there, lurking in the background is an almost three-year long pandemic. Today, it is hard to have well-planned lives when the whims of COVID-19 are at play. COVID-19 brought our mortality to the forefront of our thoughts. In an instant, all our plans went up in viral flames and left us standing in the ashes. We are still trying to get community life “back to normal”.
Sometimes the change of course isn’t instigated by a one-off event at all but a gradual realization that your present life is not what you expected or wanted it to be. Moments and realizations like these often beg the questions: Why even have a plan at all? Who’s in charge here?
Working as I do for a former Marine in the financial planning industry, we have plans or as we call them SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) for everything from scheduling appointments to writing reports to technology breakdowns to managing your portfolios to closing up shop for the day. If the power goes out, I can reference our handy three ring binder to find the SOP for working the old-fashioned way! It is amazing how difficult that can be!
While we like to expect that bull markets will reign supreme, we know that the very nature of our business is a roller coaster ride of change. Do we deviate from our written SOP’s? Certainly. No situation is the same, but by having a plan in place beforehand we have a frame of reference from which to launch our response. This response provides us at least part of the answer to the second question: who is in charge here? We are because we know how to react on our toes. We have well-practiced strategies in place.
Now, I will be honest with you, I have yet to find or write an SOP for life. Some will say the Bible is the only operator’s manual you need for living. While that is an excellent Plan A as a source of divine guidance, I need a Plan B for the business side of life. Thus, I am making sure I have a plan for my life when I am no longer “in control” of it.
One evening over dinner, after listening to a group of us share the goings on in our lives and noting how many of our plans and expectations had changed over the last several months, a dear, wiser, much older friend of mine took a sip of wine and remarked with a knowing smile that one of her favorite sayings was an old Yiddish Proverb: “Man plans, God laughs.”
Of course, this notion frustrates me to no end; yet, I know how very true it is. I like to be in control; but in the end, I know who is ultimately in charge. Nonetheless, my responsibility is to be prepared and react wisely to the changes that occur in life.
My wiser older friend on the other hand was completely satisfied with this concept and her life was richer because of it. The morning after our dinner gathering, I received a call that her husband had gone to bed that night and never woke up. In that moment, all of my friend’s reasoning and carefree logic shared the day before came sweeping over me. As I sat with her later that day, she had a peace about her that was inspiring. We talked about her husband and the joys they shared during their 56 years of marriage. Employed as I am in the financial planning world, I asked her, somewhat awkwardly, if they had “you know, made plans?”
“Of course! We settled all of that stuff years ago,” she replied matter-of-factly. And because of those plans, during this sudden change in the course of her life, she could focus on just being Nancy. When Nancy passed away, she had outlived her husband and her son. Another friend of mine was left to “close the books” on her life. While never easy, Nancy had made plans so my friend wasn’t left to guess what she wanted – from the kind of service to where her assets went.
One of the best gifts of love you can give your loved ones is an SOP for the end of your life. Don’t leave the burden of reading your now dead (sorry to be so blunt) mind to your family in order to write your final chapter. Don’t “not give a hoot” because, inevitably, someone who cares about you will be left to deal with the state, courts, and government as they handle your affairs. I write from personal experience having walked through the aftermath of the seemingly well-planned state of my parents’ affairs and watched my brother handle the affairs of my uncle – who did not make any plans.
Take responsibility now for what you hope never happens but at some point, most assuredly will. Yes, I am talking about having a will and having advanced directives in place – even if you are single with no children. Make sure all your financial accounts have payable on death or transfer on death instructions. Make sure your beneficiaries are up to date. Did you know, the beneficiary instructions on your accounts supersede what you have in your will? Make sure both accurately state your intentions. Formally state what you want done with your possessions and have it legally documented.
One of the most satisfying parts of my job is helping a grieving spouse or surviving children close out the financial chapters of their loved one’s life. Being able to tell them they have nothing to worry about, that their loved one had everything lined out ahead of time and that all I will need is a death certificate and a few signatures takes a very heavy burden off weary shoulders.
As the year unfolds for all of us, we of course hope for nothing but the best. There is much to look forward to. What that is – who knows? But I am ready to meet tomorrow with open arms, a smile, a skip in my step, and a warm embrace. I have plans!
And, when New Year’s Eve 2023 rolls around, I hope that I am celebrating all the wonderful people in my life and giving thanks for all the good times we had this year. But I also know that I may be thinking about those I have loved and lost – or God forbid – they will be remembering me.
God may laugh when we make plans, but by having a plan we can laugh, cry or just be at peace right alongside God when our best-laid plans go awry.
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin. – James 4:13-17
Whatever 2023 has in store for you, let your light so shine!