At the beginning of every year I always have a general idea of what the next 12 months will look like. Not necessarily specifics, but enough for my mind to meander forward several weeks and months ahead of me, with mental lists of things to do or to get, in preparation for what I think I know lies ahead.
This year was no exception. A definite trip to Ghana in February, Zambia planned for May, my eldest son’s wedding in July and another trip to Zambia in August. Finishing off the year with a trip to Zimbabwe and the gaps in between filled with all sorts of other things all in different stages of anticipation.
I have been travelling backwards and forwards to these countries for years with the work we do as a charity and because of years of friendship and family. These visits are the highlights of my year. They are like ‘going home’ and just the thought of them, there, somewhere on the near horizon makes my heart glad. The wedding was like the proverbial icing on the cake. What a year to anticipate.
We all know that our best laid plans never quite come together in the same way as we carry them in our imagination. But no one could have prepared any of us for this year and the reality that all our plans have been thrown out of the window in quite spectacular style.
By January the 3rd unpredicted events began to take place. These things had nothing to do with COVID – 19, just life events we could never have foreseen. The husband to our charity director in Zambia, Oliver, quite suddenly passed away. We have known Oliver and Ruth for over 20 years, they are family to us, becoming very close to us over the years but especially during the years Zambia was home to us. Our first unplanned trip, to be with Ruth and the family was to farewell our dear Oliver.
Ghana happened! That trip took place which was such a blessing but on the day we travelled we received the devasting news that my dear sister, Judith, was terminally ill with cancer. Judith died just 4 weeks later.
The two trips to Zambia for May and August were coming together. Teams were established and tickets bought. Needless to say I am in England for what should have been my second week in Zambia and who knows at this stage what will happen to the trip in August. My mind can really get tangled up doing mental gymnastics if I’m not careful.
And the wedding…postponed. And as everyone else is having to do the same, Aiden (my son) and his fiancé Meg cannot get a free date until Thursday the 29th of July 2021. Delayed by over 12 months!
It is difficult not to get frustrated with disruption and inconvenience and things not going according to plan. I remember a couple of years ago, preparing a team due to visit Zambia with our charity, CiCAUK, speaking to them about their expectations and the differences in culture and approach to life. I spoke to them from my own experience of living not only in Zambia for a number of years but also having been born and brought up in Ghana.
Disruption, interruption and inconvenience is a normal part of everyday life. Cash doesn’t always come out of the cash machine, your card could get stuck. There isn’t always fuel at the fuel station and the shops regularly run out of what you feel you need. Nothing goes according to time and programs will often be delayed to cope with emergencies and situations that arise every day. This is not wrong. It’s just different.
As a home-schooling parent classes were often interrupted because someone had to be taken to hospital, or there was a funeral to attend or a very sick child needed help. A wedding booked for 10am may find the bride only arriving at 3:00pm. I quickly learned that whilst I couldn’t do anything about disruption, interruption and inconvenience knocking at my door. I was completely in control of how I responded to it.
Those things are not wrong. They are the normal by product of living in this world and REALLY interacting and relating to people. Not everything can go according to my plans. Sometimes the rigidity of my plans cannot fit into the world I am living in. One side must learn to adapt and be flexible and I very quickly realised that for my own sanity and mental wellbeing it had to be mine. It had quite a liberating effect. The feelings of irritation that so quickly rose within me, that had me tutting and tapping were actually under my control.
I’d like to say that once I learned that lesson it stayed with me. I would be lying if I led you to believe that every time I was faced with an interruption, disruption or inconvenience I simply breezed through it calmly and serenely. I want to learn what it means to live, every day, in a place where things I cannot change do not have the power to disturb (as my mother would say) my equilibrium and remain flexible and adaptable to people and situations. Afterall it’s not all about me.
2020 is teaching us all that rather than being ‘in control’ we are all ‘out of control’. There has been nothing in the last 5 months that we have been able to predict and organise. It is likely to be that way for many months possibly even years to come. We are in control however of how we respond to the world and especially the people around us.
I was so impressed by Aiden and Meg’s response to the postponement of their wedding, when I asked them how they were coping with the stress of it all. Aiden just laughed and said “what is the point of stressing, there is nothing we can do about it…”
He is absolutely right. What is the point of stressing about it?
So almost 6 months into this year, which has turned my whole world upside down. I have less idea and more questions and liberatingly out of control.