Change in Plans

I have a belief that I have control over my life. I am quite confident that when I get up in the morning, I will make it to the end of the day having completed my “To-Do List”. I will be able to say, “Good work, kiddo!  Look at what you accomplished today!”

The reason I am mentioning this at all is that I had to change my plans today. The things I intended to accomplish somehow fell victim to a series of circumstances that I had no control over. I intended to get up and have a cup of coffee, but I only had enough grounds for one cup. I had to change my plans. I planned on paying several bills, but I couldn’t find copies, so decided to wait until later. I started to write this blog, but got distracted by the piles of papers that needed sorting before I could sit down and focus.

I have great intentions while lying in bed, but once I move from prone to vertical, my day starts to unravel. I follow a routine most of the time. That helps, because I have something to measure whether I am off schedule. I keep a calendar and, as long as I remember to write things down, I am pretty good at meeting my obligations.

 

Evidence to the Contrary, Notwithstanding

Over the years, I have built up a very strong body of evidence that supports my belief that I am both in charge of and able to direct my life the way I determine. I do this on my own terms. Yes, there have been occasional, infrequent, and at times unexpected hiccups in my well-ordered world. But I put those down to chance. As a matter of fact, I have chosen to ignore them altogether because they do not fit into my vision of what my orderly world should be.

For example, I have chosen to ignore that I had mumps, measles, and chicken pox as a child, and that my immune system may be more susceptible to viruses. I have chosen to ignore my needing to monitor the foods I put in my body in order to stay healthy as I get older. I have decided that I am exempt from exercising on a regular basis and can just expect my body to perform at the level of an Olympic athlete because I excel at critiquing these athletes from my arm chair.

Logic v Emotion

I see the folly of my ways. I am in total agreement with the experts who show me study after study outlining the consequences of my lifestyle choices. Their arguments are irrefutable. That, however, is not what is stopping me from changing. There is no single, causal source that prevents me from living a healthy life. If there were, I would have come to terms with it and done something to change my ways, because, after all, I AM IN CHARGE!

Which, of course, is a pesky problem, since that very belief is one of the impediments to my changing. Being in charge is my attempt to control things that are basically uncontrollable. Predictability makes me feel safe. Change is scary. This is an emotional response, not a logical one. Providing me with graphs and studies and reassurances from experts does absolutely nothing to soothe my terrified inner child. I either believe there are monsters under my bed or not.

COVID-19 and Vaccines

Which brings me to our current state of affairs with this virus. It has taken me all this time to get a handle on why so many people are resistant to protecting themselves. The early theories suggested that people didn’t trust the pharmaceutical companies, or didn’t trust the government, or didn’t trust the scientists.

So, out came the graphs, charts, studies, and experts who all shared their logical arguments and evidence. And way too many people dismissed it. I certainly did!  I came across a journal entry about my trip to Australia the other day where I noted that people were telling me it wasn’t safe to travel. I just ignored them!  I had paid my money and I was going to go. All that evidence to the contrary, nothing was going to happen to me! Because, of course, I WAS IN CHARGE!

And I got COVID.

Delta

It has been fifteen months since I tested positive for COVID. As soon as the vaccine was available, I signed up and got my shots. I wore my mask. I washed my hands and observed social distancing. I did everything I was told to do. The numbers started to go down. As more folks got the vaccine, reports showed that the virus was being beaten. Fewer people were dying. I started to believe that I had some control again. Then Delta hit.

And once again, out trotted the experts with graphs, charts, studies, and more recommendations. Now, however, there was more resistance than before to getting the vaccine. Doubt was creeping in. Maybe it doesn’t work. Maybe there are things we don’t know that might cause us problems. Maybe . . . maybe . . . maybe . . .

Emotion Is in Charge

I wish I had someone’s ear at the CDC. I wish I could just call up Dr. Fauci. Here’s what I would say:  “People need to be reassured, not educated. They don’t trust science or government. They will take an unknown pill from their neighbor who barely graduated from high school because their neighbor swears by it before they get a tested and approved vaccine from you. So don’t try and convince them that the vaccine works – you (and I) already know it does! What we all want is to be able to hug our family members, hang out with friends, go to the movies again. Well, we can’t just yet. It’s not safe.”

Don’t tell them all the new findings and studies. That just scares them. Tell them that they have done an amazing job so far with all that has been asked of them. Offer your understanding that it has been hard, and it may be harder for a bit longer. Don’t promise them they will be able to go back to normal, because that can’t happen. Tell them to be patient.

Robert Burns, “To A Mouse”

The phrase, “the best laid plans” keeps playing in my mind. I decided to read Robert Burns’ whole poem instead of just those few lines and was amazed at the poem’s applicability to our current situation.

Burns captures the blind trust that exists, defying the hard realities of chance and random events upsetting our well-planned life. He supposedly wrote this after he ran a plow through a mouse’s nest that was built to withstand a Scottish winter.  He sympathizes with the mouse who is no longer protected and safe.  He credits the mouse with having done no harm and reasonably expecting that would be enough to protect it.  He acknowledges the vulnerability and fear of the future that is now an unpleasant reality, and offers the observation that plans often go awry.

Burns wrote it back in 1785. All kinds of viruses killed people back then. As a matter of fact, the typical lifespan only averaged 35-40 years due to one scourge after another. And that is the difference. People expected to die early. Now we expect to live forever. But it is folly to think that way.

Delta is the plow to our safety nest. It has upset our plans of living a normal life.  Plans that oft go awry.

To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785

Little, cunning, cowering, timorous beast,
Oh, what a panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With bickering prattle!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering paddle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startle
At me, your poor, earth-born companion
And fellow mortal!

I doubt not, sometimes, that you may thieve;
What then? Poor beast, you must live!
An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves
Is a small request;
I will get a blessing with what is left,
And never miss it.

Your small house, too, in ruin!
Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
Of coarse green foliage!
And bleak December’s winds ensuing,
Both bitter and piercing!

You saw the fields laid bare and empty,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! The cruel coulter passed
Out through your cell.

That small heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
Without house or holding,
To endure the winter’s sleety dribble,
And hoar-frost cold.

But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go oft awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blessed, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

8 comments

  1. Amazing how you put ideas and thoughts together, Mary. Who else would call up the Burns poem of old and place it with Co-vid and uncertainty.Thank you always

  2. Hi Mary, I was a bit gobsmacked by your post today: I woke from a dream (which I very seldom remember anymore) about a man riding a galloping horse—standing upon its back— through a freshly plowed field. I noted the big clods of soil. At the end I was holding a pet rat, stroking her and trying to soothe her though she seemed tense and watchful. I had zero idea where to begin parsing out these images and now… wow. I’m deeply concerned about the variants and am weary of constant risk assessment. Am unsure if the poem consoles me or not. 😕 Love your posts, thank you for all your hard work!

    1. Thanks for sharing this! Always amazed at the synchronicity of writing. I find the poem helpful in terms of context — it shows me that I am not alone in my suffering, that the suffering is not mine alone to bear, and that others have seen fit to use it for insight and comment. Not that I put myself in Robbie Burns’ class….. I find your dream image powerful and touching. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you, Mary, for your insight. I think the last stanza of the poem is very important. Backward glances are sometimes dangerous.

  4. That sense of control is so important. Changing one’s whole lifestyle when it’s pretty good anyway is impossible. I have found that making teeny tiny changes to some things I do have control over has made an enormous difference to how I approach life. And to my happiness and strength, so far. I suspect that writing about your experience increases your own sense of control—at least it’s like that for me. Writing clarifies and extends my understanding. Especially in poems!

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