35/300: When You Don’t See It Coming

I was just happy to be landing. It was midnight and I had been up for almost 21 hours. A snow storm threatened the flight even leaving. I sat in the Sky Club for four hours with a dead computer and lots of time to write. The day, a dizzy blur of 19,860 steps, two flights, two cab rides, two meetings and a whole lot of anxious waiting in between, was coming to an end.

The wheels touched down, an admirable landing, and I turned on my phone. A few emails. A Facebook notification. A text from my wife ask when I’d be home. And one from my mom – Dad’s in the hospital. Call me. I’ll be up.

I won’t go into detail about what happened, just to say that he was at the doctor for one reason and they found something else. I’ve spoken to him. He’s in good spirits. There’s lots of questions, but, as he said, “I may be on a snow mobile by this weekend.”

It turned out that he was in the right place at the right time surrounded by the right people. If something was wrong, he happened to have been in one of the finest medical institutions in the world – The Cleveland Clinic. As mom put it, it was a gift from God.

I’m not writing this to talk about my dad or what’s going on with him. I’m writing about that text. Sent after 11, it was just there. It appeared from nowhere. I didn’t see it coming.

I’ve put a lot of time and energy over the last few months into making plans. It’s what I do. It’s how I find comfort. As a strategist at an agency, planning is not only my strong suit, it is my profession. But there’s no way I can plan for a text like that. There’s no way anyone can and no reason that they should.

When I read it, my heart sank. I replied immediately. “I’m getting off the plane. I’ll call you in ten minutes.” I texted my wife, my boss. I told them something had happened and I didn’t have details, but I would let them know.

The funny thing is that during the flight, I looked out across the tea-dark sky, down on the low-slung clouds and up to the rarely seen stars and thought to myself, “maybe this is why I like to travel. It feels like an escape.” I meant an escape from the knee-jerk phone checking and information inputting that seems to dominate so much of my life. I meant an escape, for a completely justifiable reason, from the life below.

I thought that, but when I landed, I was confronted with a brand of life I hadn’t expected. Like a lot of men my age and a lot of children, I have a special dread in my heart for losing my parents. I know it will happen someday, but I like to think, to convince myself that someday is a day far away. A middle of the night text from my mom, who is usually in bed by 10, triggered a panicked response. I panicked. Really panicked.

No, not right now. Not this. Not Dad. Not now.

As much as I would like to convince myself that planning is the answer, it’s really just a start, a jumping off point. Like people say, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him you have a plan, right? But I need plans. I need expectations. I get itchy when I can’t see what’s coming. True, I often overthink what’s going to be coming my way, but I’d rather overthink and be ready, than the opposite.

I just can’t bring myself to think about this.

This morning, after a few hours sleep, I tried to plug back in, to get back on track. But it wasn’t until I spoke with Dad that it even seemed possible. I had been thrown for a loop. I had had my foundational plans rocked. He’s going to be okay. I think I can know that now. I need to know that now.

It’s important to have plans in life. It’s important to know where things are going and how you’ll get there. But it’s the things you can’t plan for that often make the biggest impact. I wasn’t ready for a text like that from Mom. Why would I be? Who would want to be?

I just hope I don’t get blindsided again like that. Not any time soon anyway.

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