The best laid plans.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

– To a Mouse,  by Robert Burns (paraphrased from the original Scottish text)

My Dad used to quote that line.  He quoted it a lot.  My Dad used to quote a lot of things – literature, poetry, Shakespeare.  He was well-read, intellectual, with a flair for the dramatic.  All of those things I’ve just said are a complete understatement.

It’s funny the way that his favorite words find me, now that he’s gone.  How they grab me.  How a piece of text will pop into my head out of nowhere and I’ll hear it echoing in my brain, always in his voice, deep and tinged with a hint of laughter, a dash of Irish mischief.

I used to roll my eyes when Dad would quote some famous piece of text, theatrically, in that way that he did.  It would verge on melodrama, but he really meant it.  Or at least, he sold it well.  During his court-mandated stint in rehab after a drunk driving incident, Mom would tell me stories of how Dad charmed everyone, how he brought other rehab patients to tears with his eloquent quotations of some of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets.  He impressed everyone, even the addiction  counselors.  But Dad was never serious about getting sober.  He just wanted to win the room.

It’s so strange the way that our subconscious mind puts things together, so weird and wonderful the way long forgotten memories come flooding back when we least expect them to.  Now, when one of Dad’s favorite quotes pops into my head, I figure  it must be because I needed to hear it; it’s some lesson I’m still learning.

Just like the line, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  If ever there was a line reverberating in my brain lately, it’s that one.  Because my life these days is nothing like I thought it would be ten years ago, or five years ago, or even a few months ago.  I’ve learned (or am learning) that nothing is certain, except uncertainty.  As I try to hold on to the hopeful optimism that’s been a constant companion throughout my life (when I was a girl, Dad used to call me ‘Polyanna’), I find myself in a frequent tug of war between long-held dreams and current, inescapable realities.  And as much as I know that the surest path to freedom is to release my expectations, let go of the past, embrace the moment, and move the F on, it is a heck of a lot harder to do that than the Buddhists would have you believe.

In fact, I’m not even sure that letting go of expectations is entirely possible.  How can you?  If you do something, anything, in your life – take a job, make a plan, start a relationship, a friendship, a project,  you buy tickets to a concert on Saturday night – you have a picture in your mind of how it’s going to go, don’t you?  You anticipate.  You dream.  You imagine the outcome.  It’s what we do as human beings.

So here I am, with all of the best laid plans I made for my life gone completely awry, wondering what now?  And so I take comfort in those words.  Because I’m not the only one to make big, grand plans that just don’t work out.  I’m not the only one to build a dream and then watch it crumble.  I’m not the only one to feel like I’m too old, too lost, too hopeless to start over, and yet start over I must.

Thanks for that reminder, Dad.  Thanks for allowing those words to come to me – via you – just when I needed them the most.

Until next time, friends.

5 thoughts on “The best laid plans.

  1. We let go of expectations quite more often than we realize.

    Think about when you try a new ethnic food you’ve never had before, or start off on a hiking trail in a new place you’ve never been.

    So the state of no expectations isn’t necessarily a negative one, or one of implied hardship.

    But what to do the rest of the time? How do you start anything new when “The best laid plans of mice and men go awry”?

    Well, here is where a lot of western virtues fail us.

    Creativity and Ingenuity? Well the thing was designed and it flopped.

    Courage? Well we started it in the face of overwhelming odds and it failed.

    Determination and hard work? We wasted all of our time on it and we probably could have done something else.

    So imagine, there you are in a state of complete misery sitting on your bump in a log. Why even start anything new if it’s just going to turn to ash?

    Thank goodness for the time warp that just happened in front of you.

    So there’s a yogi and a stoic standing there smiling at you.

    They ask what’s troubling you and you tell them about plans, mice and men.

    They bust out laughing.

    You’re just lacking a little equanimity.

    You burst out laughing, too.

    Wait a minute, WTF are they talking about?

  2. Lovely, thoughtful post. (There are so many things we CAN’T control…but your plans, your steps, are making something happen–even if the result’s not quite what you ahd in mind.) As a one-generation removed Scot, I find a lot to listen to in the works of the poet Robert Burns! All the best,


  3. Gone through many changes and stages of life and planning and am embarking on a new unknown. We sold our house and are packing up to leave it in 3 weeks. Why? Because it was time to do something different. Lots more planning and watching to see if it turns out well. Optimistically, we think it will. We humans are made that way. Keep chin up. Luv

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