What would you do if the life you have right now were hijacked by a defining moment? It happens everyday; to ordinary people.
THE PLAN...WHAT’S ON YOUR PLATTER?
(Give it over, not up)
I saw someone die today. I hadn’t planned it, and they hadn’t planned it either. It happened. I can only recall seeing someone on a motorcycle and then within seconds or less seeing a body quickly catapulted through the air and then under the wheel of a large truck permitting a helmet and pieces of metal flying as suddenly as a sneeze. When I pulled over to call 911, my hands were shaking and the voice I heard mumbling to the operator sounded nothing like my own.
Later I stood with others as the jaws of life were removed, the ambulance sent off to await another call and the sheets placed over someone who had been alive minutes before. From the corner of my eye, I had witnessed it all; the rider, the body, the life, the death. Just hours, minutes or even moments before perhaps someone had shook the hand, shared a confidence, chatted about trivia, gave a kiss, or stood beside the body which lost life as quickly as a balloon hitting a thorn. Life here and gone as quickly as a raindrop splashes and is obliterated by the wipers on a car. That is what we have basically; a moment before we will be remembered to some, forgotten by others.
I knelt down in the grass and prayed for both the victims; the motorcyclist who expired and the truck driver who survived. Both in a matter of no more than maybe fifteen seconds became victims of circumstances. I do not know if either one was married, had children or even if they were locals or just visitors driving through the area. I did know that many lives going about a typical daily existence were changed in those moments without even being so much as aware of it yet. We often have no control over who changes our plans because they entered or exited or lives.
Following that accident, cars were again frantically positioning themselves on that freeway to beat their competitors’ home. At a stop light, I looked over at a young lady in the car next to mine swaying her head back and forth no doubt to the tune coming from inside her vehicle. As I pulled into a service station, two children in the car behind mine enjoyed window antics from the man (maybe their father) pumping gas and making faces at them, two young adults were hugging and a girl in the convenience store was joking with an older gentleman about him ‘winning the big one someday’ as he sandwiched a stash of lottery tickets into his jacket pocket and promised to share his future winnings. Life and death coexisted simultaneously, one quite oblivious to the other. At any given moment something can change our lives or the lives of
someone we know, we work with, live with, study with, do life together with and things will never be the same. Today this death was simply another unremarkable second to some people and yet the same act was the second that changed others’ lives quite unlike what they may have ever imagined. The same second perceived and experienced quite differently.
Everyone’s moment is experienced from a different perspective.
Perhaps our first mistake is to be acclimated from the time we are born to plan for our future. We have become accustomed to hearing about family planning, educational planning, financial planning, vacation planning, retirement planning. Now, funerals can even be planned and arranged in advanced. We think somehow by planning we can control for what we have little control, but what is blatantly obvious is that we plan because we have no control. Perhaps it gives us some sense of security because we have invested our time and energy and often our resources into making certain we have done all that we can do about what we can do really little about.
Yes, we can choose to live in the two-story instead of the ranch but we cannot plan that our homes will never have a fire even if we install smoke alarms or that they will never be burglarized even with a security system. We can choose to exercise and plan for a healthy future but we cannot be assured that our plans will mean that we will never face a terminal illness or chronic disorder. We can choose to save and invest for our retirement but not plan for the big board to demonstrate another day of dire news when the opening bell rings. We can make choices but we cannot make long range plans and that is where we often fail to recognize the factors between our limitations and our productivity. Often we judge our outcomes on the results rather than on how we handled the circumstances we faced getting to our destination and we determine that if we did not succeed in achieving a goal that perhaps we have failed. But exercising and making healthy choices and still becoming a victim of a life-long illness is no more failure than investing our money wisely and watching much of it dwindle because of the general state of the world’s economy. No man is an island. Whatever we do or decide, good or bad often is proceeded and followed by the domino principle of who or what also happened before or after we made those choices. What other people did we affect and what other circumstances did we collide with on the road to getting to our destination without ever planning the involvement? Much like the accident today, we can make the choices that might lead to an outcome but we can no more have complete control of the outcome than we can start or stop a rainstorm.
Hypothetically, in our lives we are at the controls and we are in the vehicle making some decisions about which direction might be the wisest, most interesting, least difficult, most profitable, fastest or best for us at any given moment but that is where we make many of our first mistakes whether we are selecting a career, a spouse, or even our ideas about how we will get our eternal reward. We think just because we are at the controls that we are in control and
then the day arrives when we realize that there is NOTHING really NOTHING within our total control and we stop and realize that there is a huge difference between being at the controls and being the one in control. HUGE!
It is difficult to even fathom that an act that we have yet to experience today may have a consequence in our lives tomorrow. It is beyond our imagination to even think that a person who we know nothing about, not even about their existence at this minute may make a significant difference in our lives. We have no clue who we will meet in the future, no assurance that our lives will turn out like we planned. Our money, fame, health, status, education and background provide no guarantees that we can reach a destination we set out to reach or that we can stop calamities that we set out to avoid. Our next moment DOES NOT DEPEND ON US. The only thing that depends on us is our decision in that moment. Do we order the chicken or the fish? Do we smile or look away? Do we make the call or fail to follow through? Do we go for the yard or punt? Do we tell the truth or lie? Intervene or ignore? Step on the gas or the brake? Ignite the fire or put it out? Stay or leave? Betray or honor? Hold on or let go? Permit or deny?
All human plans are at the divine mercy of what will be.
Every second of our life is unknown. By the time I type this next sentence, someone’s life will have been changed dramatically by those few seconds. Perhaps it will be because in those seconds, a child will be conceived, or a victim assaulted. The next second could deliver the final number someone needs on a lottery ticket or the first time someone hears “I love you”. In moments, an accident could change everything, the signature could make it final, the judge can determine the sentence, the bullet can pierce the skin, the smile can make the difference, the casket can be lowered, the veil can be raised, the house can go up in flames, the stock market can crash, the ethics can be lost, the hand can be outstretched, the knife can stab, the values can be compromised, the lightening can strike, the diagnosis can be given, the “I do’s” can be said, the landmine can explode, the final out can end the game, the fetus can be aborted, the praise can be sung, the divorce can be final, the car can cross the yellow line, the wrist can be sliced, the peace treaty signed, the football sail over the goal post and the values go over the line.
We spend a lifetime planning what we might do, who we might spend it with, where we might live, what we might have. We insure, invest, warranty and bond, but we still cannot control the next moment. We can plan for it with about as much confidence as two undefeated teams entering a title game knowing only one can win. Planning for what happens in the blink of an eye, and what really happens in the blink of an eye are two very different things. The winning team planned to win, but the team that lost did not plan to lose, so…what happened?
In God’s eyes, every second is planned but in our hearts the choice of how we experience them is decided. God does not choose one of us to kill and one to be killed or one of us to save and
one to be abandoned. He does not decide one of us should become a drug addict any more than He determines one of us should stay clean. God does not whisk some of his offspring to live a life behind bars while to others He allows limitless freedom. He plans each second. We decide how to respond. He gives us the moment and we choose how to fill it. He provides a door and we choose to open or close it. He does have a plan. We do have a choice. It is all planned for us but it is not all decided for us. He allows us to have a recipe. We can choose whether we elect to put in the correct ingredients or take a chance that the finished product might turn out less than what we hoped for if we substitute what was in that recipe with whatever we brought to the table.
Kahil Gibran said, “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.”
We often forget that we do not decide tomorrow but only now. We can make choices that appear to lead to some type of decisions about our future, our careers, relationships, health, finances but we make the choices now. We cannot know what we will do or what will happen in the future anymore than we be certain of what type of weather we will have next week. We can plan for rain because it was predicted but even the weatherman cannot make it so. We can choose with whom we would like to have a relationship and the depth of that relationship. We can choose what career path to follow, what to study, where to live, how to spend our recreational time, what skills to perfect, what to let go of and what to keep but we make that decision in the present. Perhaps that is why when a circumstance, an event, a person or experience comes along at some point in the future and changes what we thought might be, we comment, “This wasn’t at all what I planned!” We are still surprised that the moments beyond the now are not ours to plan. We imagine control we will and should never have.
Is it possible there is a moment that is given to us that we might never choose and yet it might be a turning point for something larger than we could know? Do we sometimes not realize what impact a moment had until sometime in the future whenever we recall a choice we made, a decision we ignored, a commitment we kept or an opportunity that we avoided? Are defining moments always obvious or are they more apt to be spontaneous occurrences that only develop their definition after a time of reflection? Are our platters so full that we cannot even find the morsel that we relish? Have we simply forgotten how to make the most of this moment because we cannot even locate it amid our already over-scheduled day planners? Have we lost the now and what we really should be doing because we are so concerned about the tomorrow that we can do absolutely nothing about?
A rich man is as helpless as one in poverty to grab onto a moment of time and keep it. Time is the one constant that knows no prejudice. No one really has any more or any less of it. Our circumstances may make it seem so, but the same hours are in my day as in the day of one imprisoned, one retired, one dying, and one who has just been born. Unlike any of our other resources, time is unable to be held, stopped, maintained or reproduced synthetically. Time is precious. It is so precious that it is only given to us moment by moment, one second after
another. We do not get all sixty seconds of a minute at once. We wait for each one and while getting one, wait on the next, so fleeting we cannot hold both seconds at the same time, but so exceptional that we cannot have even one moment gone, back again. We want so much to make an impact on our futures when what we do right now has the most critical impact on the next moment. If we could only get passed wanted to ‘fill up’ on the emptiness of the unknown and learn to savor the morsel of the moment whether bitter or sweet, how much more we would be filled with that would make all the difference in the future that we can’t determine by more than what we choose right here, right now.
You can make choices and decisions but plans are the Lord’s to make.
Often we get so anxious about what the future holds or what we have or have not accomplished yet and we forget that it is the moment we have in front of us that we are asked to accept. We often regard that moment as trivia because it seems so fleeting but ask anyone who has had a defining moment about the one that changed their life and they will tell their story from a perspective that begins with,
“When I realized...”
“In that split second…”
“A moment later…”
“In a flash…”
“All of the sudden…”
“The next thing I knew…”
“Just like that…”
“At the blink of an eye…”
Please ask everyone to buy your books on Red Room. However, if we don't have your book right now, where should readers buy it?:
As described by the then executive editor, Ruth Lisa Schecther:
My Sensual Sister
Sometimes I pretend you are alive, escaped, somewhere in the world. Behind the Great Wall of China, sipping tea beneath a canopy of pink silk at a table of bamboo, or at the casement window of a bistro, an American artist exiled in Paris, surrounded by young wire-rimmed admirers who smell of bread and jam from paniers and the pulp of socialistic journals that pour onto your lap or--more ennobled--you are a missionary in Africa tanned as dark as the open-mouthed children on your knees, and steam rises from the riverbank where you boil water. And sometimes I just pretend I can send my child to you for a summer visit in Oregon or Louisiana and that she returns with a clay pot like you and I once fashioned beside a creek bed. Most of the time I realize you are gone, that no part of the world can embrace you for me and I find sisters in my friends and give to them the love I gave to you and only in my sleep travel down and around the Great Wall of China to share some tea and silk with my unsensual dead.
Please ask everyone to buy your books on Red Room. However, if we don't have your book right now, where should readers buy it?:
I submitted this poem not only because I do admire Sexton's work, but also because I empathized with those who suffered from her death. In "My Sensual Sister," I share my feelings about the loss of my own sister to suicide, though I did not explore her mental illness, like some of the other poets in this Special Awards Issue of Croton Review.
If you can find a copy of this issue, it contains a memoir of Kathleen Spivack about her friendship with Anne Sexton. Also, Marge Piercy has a poem in this issue, "A Line of Dancers Through Time," p. 45
Joseph Ciardiello did the cover art for this issue.
Original Published Source (if Published Work is not a Book):
Croton Review, 1988; reprinted in To Hide in the Light, 1998.