But even with all the technology at our fingertips to aid us in organizing and executing our well-considered plans, we can never really out-plan chance circumstances, nor should we. Chance and happenstance have the power to dissolve our perfect plans in an instant, leaving us without a next move for better or worse, but always changed. Throw some kids into the equations and it would seem that all the well-designed plans in the world are pretty much temporary ones.
My wife and I opted not to have children, choosing instead to spend our child-rearing time and effort on community and social concerns, building our own businesses and being that wonderful aunt and uncle to our friends’ and siblings’ many offspring.
One tradition we’ve created is to send each child a plane ticket for their sixteenth birthday to fly solo to North Carolina for a week of fun and new experiences. Between whitewater rafting, zip-lines, Thai food, working the farmers market and living without their parents for a week, they leave with some different stories to share with family and friends. We congratulate ourselves when they depart for having enhanced their lives and for surviving several days with teenagers in the house.
This year, it was Annie, my sister’s youngest, who came, the last of the seven teenage voyagers on our list. We laid out plans for adventures and experiences she’d never had, hoping to send her back enthused and more worldly than when she arrived. I picked up the still sky-nervous kid in Asheville, and we got back to Cullowhee at the same time her cousin stopped by, just by chance, on his way from Boston to Clemson to start as a freshmen. We finished the day with laughter and her first experience of ratatouille, squash and seared kale dinner, and she liked it.
We were on our way toward another exciting tomorrow and all the newness awaiting there, whatever it was. After she made her first-ever batch of blueberry pancakes from scratch for the hungry group, we said goodbye as they headed south, and we headed for the river’s whitewater and as much excitement as we could find in a Ducky. A couple hours later, we were soaked, tired and hungry and ready for a shower, a tour of the town and campus and a big fat pizza. Everybody was happy, everything was going perfectly according to my plan, and I grinned widely.
The next day included a trip to Rabun Gap-Nacoochie School just south of Franklin for her to see what life at a private boarding school looked like and to see if she might like to go there next fall for her senior year. We met Ms. Richardson at the appointed time for the tour, which turned into a class schedule planning, an interview, then a meeting with the coaches and the director of athletics and another interview. We emerged from the appointment very enthused when Ms. Richardson came out and said that the school did not want her next year — they wanted her this year and could she be ready to start classes next week. In the first-caught breath, Annie said “Yes.”
My carefully laid plans for the week of frolic vaporized instantly, and a pair of jaws fell open as we tried to understand what had just taken place. The next five days would not be spent swinging from treetops and hiking the Smokies, but instead we’d be transferring school and medical records, shopping for school supplies, shoes and uniforms, and cramming for the entrance exams that were being given in four days. The families were like the proverbial “deer in the headlights” when we called with the news that their baby would be coming home in four months, not Tuesday as planned — all they had to do was sign the pile of paperwork headed their way.
Shocked by what they were hearing, they gave a quick “no.” After some thought, though, they gave a “yes” with more than a little trepidation in their voices. That night, I changed her return flight from Aug. 20 to Dec. 20. She wasn’t going home after all; there was no time for such things. Our simple tour had turned events on a dime and changed the direction of just about everything in both of our worlds.
It’s been almost two months since then, and we’re all still adjusting to the new reality brought on by a simple twist of fate. She really likes her 6-foot, 4-inch roommate from Nigeria and is bringing her to Cullowhee to spend Thanksgiving with us. Guess we’ll just have to change our holiday plans, but I’m starting to get used to doing that. The week of adventure we had planned this summer has transformed into much more than any of us could have imagined, all due to an unexpected chance and opportunity showing up out of left field.
Maybe we all try to plan too much of our lives, squashing the opportunity for chance and fate to take the wheel from our hands, and sometimes those unexpected opportunities can lead to great things. But we have to allow it to happen in our lives, to leave ourselves open to the unexpected. Annie and I agree that life is made up of a lot of moving pieces and parts, and to put a spin on Lennon’s classic 1969 song, all we are saying is “give chance a piece,” and enjoy the ride wherever it takes you.