Life According to Plan

I am not a sci-fi type. I’m not really any type. But tonight, John and I watched The Adjustment Bureau and it has my head reeling. If you haven’t seen this film, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, I highly recommend it.

Now, how can a simple thriller have my head reeling? Well, quite simply, this film is, at its core, the physical embodiment of everything of which I have wondered my entire adult life. If you haven’t seen, I’ll offer up a quick summary so you know what the hell I am speaking of.

David is a politician on the fast track to the presidency. Elise is a contemporary ballerina. They meet in a public restroom by complete chance. (Or is it?) David can’t get her out of his head. Cut to a park after a lost election: David is on his way to his new job when mysterious men in fedoras seem particularly interested in the fact that he is supposed to spill his coffee on his shirt no later than 7:05 AM. But the man overseeing this seemingly random event that is ultimately a part of the master plan for David dozes. David doesn’t spill his coffee. He instead catches a city bus, where he runs into Elise. And so it starts.But it was never supposed to. David was to spill the coffee, thus necessitating a change of clothing, resulting in a missed bus, not seeing Elise, and leaving their knowledge of each other limited to the chance encounter in the restroom. They were not supposed to be together. It was not a part of the plan for either of them. David is supposed to win the next election, and more to come, eventually becoming the President. Elise is planned to become a world-famous dancer and marry her choreographer. Instead, the two fall in love. To be together, there must be a deviation of the plan. And a sort of straying from the dreams they each have for their lives. They simply cannot have it both ways.

I have often thought of this very topic. I’m not insane. I never thought there was a team of men in fedoras following me around to make sure I fulfill my destiny. But like just about everyone I know, I’ve wondered if there is some sort of plan for me. Is this supposed to happen, and what are the events to follow that are a direct result? This is all compounded by the fact that I have lived through some things that would make any normal person’s skin crawl. I’ve made it through when I never dreamed I would. Catastrophic events. And the strange thing about it all is that after the dust settled and the smoke cleared from each of those personal earthquakes, I could honestly see something positive that was a direct result. While I hate the events, I can say that each has left me even more changed than the one before it. I am the person I am because of those earthquakes. If you drop a beautiful vase, you may be able to pick up the pieces and put it back together, but the vase will never be the same. Its very constitution has been changed forever. It doesn’t mean it’s any better or worse. Its justdifferent. Rougher hewn. Was it always the plan for the vase to shatter?

In the film, they refer to the small events that have the capacity to change the course of one’s plan as inflection points. These aren’t the life-altering events, but rather the small ones that can make a difference in where we go. And so I sit here pondering the inflection points of my own life. Laughter on the night of my senior prom. The first feeling of true freedom on my first night away at college. A kiss from a past love. The smell of my newborn son. The first time I got a taste of the medical world and thought it could be for me. Moments where it just could have gone differently and yet didn’t. But what was the moment? Where did the plan change forever?

Flecks of copper. That was it for me. My plan changed with the sight of them. Everything traces back to that. John’s eyes. Flecks of copper in chocolate pools. And suddenly, I can trace the events of my life in relation to that point. My ill mother and her subsequent passing. The events of my life, of which I cannot speak right now, just prior to meeting John. The lost love that broke my heart. The job that led me to a friend that introduced us. The strangest thing is that, while he lived four hours away from me, he dated a girl who grew up in the same tiny rural town of Indiana where I finished high school. And their family moved to Cincinnati at the same time my mom was passing away and I was returning home to Cincinnati by myself. Yet our parallel paths never crossed. Until I saw those flecks of copper. And suddenly the events of my life after that point are the direct result of his presence here in my life: respiratory school, Evan, Zachary.

So when I stop to ponder all of this, the next obvious question is this: what if we never met? If just one tiny thing were to be off just slightly and our paths never crossed? Would I have ever become the physician I always dreamed of becoming? I can’t even think of it. To do so would have the images of our children’s faces dissolve into a mist of the nonexistent. And so I have spent my time since then trying to have both. Two paths converged into one. And every step of the way was a disaster. Finally, Zachary and bedrest came along,nd suddenly the other path seemed to be not so important to me anymore.I could stop trying to blaze a path where there was none before. I could relax just a little. (Those of you who know what it is that I am doing these days will probably laugh at the idea of this being relaxation, but it really is compared to before.)

What if this was it? Maybe this was the plan all along, and all of the events led me here? Or maybe it wasn’t. Sometimes I feel like I missed my chances from pure happenstance. Other times, this is exactly where I should be. I guess the only thing that matters is that even in the times where I feel as if I missed something, I know that this was the better of the two. Because of the copper flecks.

And now I leave you with this quote from the movie as the credits started to roll. (Background note: The Chairman is the God-figure in the film who writes the plan for David.)

“Most people live life on the path we set for them. Too afraid to explore any other. But once in a while people like you come along and knock down all the obstacles we put in your way. People who realize free will is a gift, you’ll never know how to use until you fight for it. I think that’s The Chairman’s real plan. And maybe, one day, we won’t write the plan. You will.”

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