Of course that fickle finger of fate has caused mischief with best-laid plans forever. Just when things are all dialed in, something comes up – a death in the family, a freak blizzard, an economic crash, a vehicle break down, a sudden illness. It has always been so.
Also, it’s true that people of my generation in America have had the incredible good luck to live during a period of comfort, health, economic stability and a general lack of mayhem and tragedy. We’ve had our shaky moments, to be sure, but it’s hard to imagine a better span, or a better location, to have been born into. Pure luck.
That said, it has become clear in recent years that, to an unnerving degree, we have entered more uncertain times, and that being able to count on much of anything to work out as planned is a crapshoot – from taking a trip to counting on retirement, from buying a house to finding half-and-half at the store.
The biggest single culprit in this phenomenon lately has been the advent of Covid. For years now, since early 2020, Covid has laid waste to millions of lives, and impacted the health of millions more who have survived its scourge. For most of us, the round of plague has meant putting life on a prolonged Plan B course correction – stay home, lose jobs, work remotely, miss graduations/weddings/reunions/birthdays, skip school, don’t travel, deal with solitude, deal with scarcity, deal with grief, deal with masks, deal with boredom. Deal. From missed concerts to missed deaths, Covid made us all cope with profound uncertainty. It required us to make judgement calls on behavior. It made us miss out on things both profound and trivial.
But something more insidious and wide-ranging seems also to be going on here. In addition to the wallop of Covid on life, there appears to be a rising confluence of issues weighing in on those best-laid plans and creating havoc of our intentions. The tributary streams creating this river of unpredictability include the myriad effects of climate change, the alarming and global phenomenon of political unrest, the intrusion of health issues, and what seems to be a frail infrastructure struggling to hold everything together and failing with distressing frequency.
In my small and privileged sphere I’ve had to reschedule the last three months of canoe expeditions in my year of monthly journeys due to Covid; had to call off a Yampa River trip due to a lack of water; missed a Hamilton performance because I tested positive for Covid; had to call off a solstice cabin outing because of -40 winter temperatures; dealt with two cancelled flights on one trip; called off a family reunion because of Covid and travel logistics; and I’m forgetting/repressing a good deal. Many of my friends have had similar problems – wilderness trip permits canceled due to fires or floods or drought, trips thrown into chaos due to illness or political unrest, important transitions unmarked; careers derailed, school put on hold, deaths unattended. Others have had far more trying ordeals. Consider the millions of travelers this past Christmas season dealing with a week of horrific weather and airline failures. Consider all the people who lost jobs and still haven’t recovered. Consider those with lingering and debilitating symptoms of Covid. Consider travelers caught up in the post-election riots in Peru recently, never mind those rotting in foreign jails for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and becoming political pawns.
All that doesn’t even touch the true misery of crises gripping so much of humanity. My experience is superficial and trivial compared to war and famine and political tyranny and societal dysfunction. I speak from a privileged vantage, enjoying the comfort and security so many crave. I have no business complaining, and yet, my inconveniences speak to a wider phenomenon. What manifests in my life as a need to be nimble and flexible, open to change, resourceful with options, the challenge to make lemonade of lemons, is a much more profound and ominous trend in the wider world. The confluence of political turmoil, health threats, environmental upheaval, and our fraying ability to juggle it all may lead to a reality in which Plan Bs will be a necessary survival tool, and the stakes won’t be as benign as an altered trip itinerary, but life and health and happiness itself.
More than anything, I hope I’m wrong.