This Thoughtful Thursday, we’re talking about coping with life on pause. I’m hearing from a lot of you who have had to cancel your travel plans to Paris due to Coronavirus—even wedding and anniversary celebrations. These canceled events are heartbreaking for the person who made the plans—and for the businesses counting on them coming to pass.
When we make plans, it’s a bond with the universe, and with others involved. A sudden change of plans feels like a breech of trust. It’s disruptive, sometimes painful, and that pain can lead to sadness, even depression.
“You need a Look-Forward-To,” my friend Karla told me, back when my mother was fighting breast cancer. If you’ve read my memoir, you remember the LFT. From Chapter 11: One of my friends at work called these events “LFTs.” Everyone needed them, she said, something fun in the future to plan for, especially when you’re going through a rough patch. The first time she told me about the LFT, my mother was in the hospital. The LFT Ma and I talked about was Paris in April. She wouldn’t make it to April, or to Paris, but the LFT had served its purpose; it lifted her up when things felt hopeless.
We use our future plans to keep motivated and positive, especially when we’re mired in something in the present. But when those plans are cancelled, especially for reasons out of our control, it can leave us feeling stranded in the present—an insufferable, interminable present with no wind in our sails to propel us out of this mess.
I had so many plans for this year; I was stoked. This was going to be the best year ever, the year I got all my big plans off the ground. I’d worked so hard in 2019, personally and professionally, and my efforts were bearing fruit: clients were knocking my door down; I had several workshops and lectures planned. The clouds from a failed relationship had finally lifted and I was feeling strong and upbeat. And there would be travel: Tokyo in April; Tuscany in July. It was all going to happen this year.
Okay, I could deal with no Italy, but the fear of loss of income? Am I right? It’s bad enough we’ve lost our LFTs, but the thought of losing our homes? Much worse.
How can you find the will to get out of bed when you have nothing to look forward to? Can you live without plans?
Planning is a gamble, like investing. It’s an act of blind trust that a golden future will be there, waiting for us when we arrive. But the future doesn’t exist—it’s an illusion—and our plans, even when paid in advance, are not guaranteed. That was always true, even before this pandemic.
The French use the word normalement when discussing a planned event. Normalement, je vais en Italie en juillet. “Normally” does not have the same meaning it does in English, it’s more like: “If there are no obstacles, it will probably come to pass that I will go to Italy in July.” Normalement. It’s a conditional promise. Fingers crossed.
That says a lot about how fatalist (and practical) the French mind is. But it’s actually very Buddhist, too. Buddha says planning the future creates want, a sense of lack in the present. And as we now know, that longing creates pain and suffering.
Does this mean Karla’s LFT is a bad idea? Not at all. Plan it, sure. Just don’t hang your hat on it. And certainly don’t use it as a reason to neglect your life in the present.
We absolutely cannot plan anything right now. No plans. At all. I know, I’m freaked out, too. We’re walking around in the present without a roadmap. I don’t like being forced to “embrace the now” when the now basically, well…sucks. But here we are.
Living in the present reality without the bright shiny carrot dangling ahead doesn’t have to bring us down. It can actually free us up. We can’t control the impact of the virus on our future plans, but we can make the present moment as beautiful, peaceful, funny, wonderful, memorable, moving, interesting as any vacation might have been. Okay, it ain’t Paris, but even Paris isn’t Paris right now.
The future will come, planned or not, and we’ll be able look back on this time as a rough patch we came through. Past tense. In that future, we will stand stronger, more clearheaded, and more able to embrace our lives in the present. And there will be vacations in Paris. Normalement. Fingers crossed.
For those of you who are interested in taking part in the Paris Writing Retreat this June, it’s been moved tentatively to October. For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org.