"You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine."Wallace Stegner
Crossing to Safety
I recently reread this book. I first read Crossing to Safety about 13 years ago when Bob and I were living in Portland, OR. We were young, newly married, child and house free, and enjoying a carefree life in the green and lush Pacific Northwest. Back then I was enamored with the friendship described between the two couples. The friendship begins in the late 1930's when they are all in their 20's and beginning their careers and families. The reader is taken through 40 years of the foursome's joys and struggles as they live their lives amid the backdrop of a great depression, a world war, an economic boom, and social/societal upheaval.
I saw ourselves and our friends in these couples.I would imagine Bob and I 40 years in the future hanging out with our friends that we were close to at the time. Our kids would be grown and we could reminisce, with plenty of side splitting laughter, about child rearing. We would look back on fruitful careers, our travels, and other shared experiences.
Ah, it would be so lovely.
And even though the couples in the story have many obstacles they overcome it never occurred to me during that first read how it might feel to be living those obstacles. I just romanticised the ending, the looking back on all the accomplishments and relishing that we are still together after all these years.
I assumed we would all still be together and happy. That was the plan.
But as Stegner so aptly tells us: you can plan all you want to.
Reading the book this time around I see it through different eyes. Instead of eyes filled with beginnings and optimism, I see the story through eyes filled with new beginnings and reality. It might sound dreadful but it's not. Reality does not negate optimism, it just humbles it a bit.
On the last page Stegner writes: "If we could have foreseen the future during those good days in Madison where all this began, we might not have had the nerve to venture into it."
In my 20s if someone had told me that when I was 35 and pregnant my husband would get cancer and I would be widowed a year later with two small boys to raise I think I would have kindly said no thank you. Who would sign up for that? That sounds like an awful plan. I doubt these hardships are never part of any ones plan.
Thank goodness we don't know the future in advance. Would knowing change our choices? I could have missed out on 10 fabulous years with Bob. (OK, 9 fabulous ones and one kind of sucky one) Or I might have chosen not to have Henry and Arthur. (and what would the aunts be doing then?!)
So, would anyone like to guess what might happen in the next 13 years? I'm sure I don't know. But I am still making plans, even though I have been that slug dissolving into foam, I am still optimistic enough to plan, to venture into the unknown.
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