The best-laid plans

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Robert Burns was moved to write a poem to the mouse whose house he turned over with his plow. The famous lines from that piece are: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men/ Gang aft agley/ An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain/ For promis'd joy!" In other words, things don't always turn out the way you'd like them to.

I saw this happen one year with my very dear and fiercely independent brother, Rex, who invited his class to his birthday party. We were a large family and had recently moved to the state. Rex assured us his oral invitation was enough to bring his friends, and we had the accoutrements of a party: cake, etc. But he stood for two hours, staring out the window, and no one came.

Notifying the parents of his friends so they'd know who was giving the party and where it was had fallen through the cracks, and he turned from that window stony-faced, accepting at last that it just wasn't going to happen. A heartbreaker. He no longer remembers it; I can't seem to forget.

So when I read about a similar situation that involved an entire town of 2,600 people, I sympathized as the tale was told in a recent New York Times article (Mar. 25).

This event wasn't a birthday party. This was a weekend extended by a town to New York City firefighters and guests. It was thoughtfully planned, right down to a chartered bus to bring them from NYC to Skaneateles, New York. Rooms, meals, free rides to the outlet center, no pressure to come to the buffets or banquets in their honor; just come, we love you. Sunday School students raised money; businesses donated services and goods. The town itself was the gift. But as with my brother's party arrangements, something went awry with the invitation part of things, and at the last minute it appeared that no one was coming. "The best-laid plans of mice and men, go oft astray..."

How do you save what appears beyond redemption? The hurt and disappointment are beyond a human solution. That is a very precious moment. Do you surrender to hopelessness and become cynical and bitter? That is certainly one road you can travel down. It is the first road one of the organizers of the event in New York started on, so in anger he burned his FDNY hat, much to his regret later on.

You can also stop and reason Biblically, spiritually. Mary Baker Eddy wrote a poem describing moments that tempt us to react: "Wait, and love more for every hate, and fear/ No ill, – since God is good, and loss is gain" ("Poems," pg. 4). It is an odd admonition to pray with expectation when all human plans have failed.

The temptation to argue, rage, pout, is strong. "Loss is gain" can appear like a pep talk for keeping a stiff upper lip. But Mrs. Eddy wasn't trying to write about being a good sport in the face of challenges. Remember, the poem also says, "Fear no ill." Replacing the fear of hurtful disappointment and anger with a calmer sense enabled that event organizer to move beyond his initial reaction.

He realized that just 30 miles east of Skaneateles a fire department was mourning the loss of two firefighters who had died in the line of duty a week earlier.

So instead of that bus traveling to New York City (the New York City Fire Commissioner extended his apologies for the mix-up), it went to Manlius and came back with a bus of firefighters and guests who will always remember the loving warmth extended to them that weekend.

Could it be that by not accepting loss, this community's gift was given to recipients who were blessed by it? Could it be that by not accepting defeat, the organizers experienced all that they wanted to give, and so loss became gain?

God is in control of our lives, and a plan so filled with loving intention need not meet with sadness or loss. Somewhere, somehow, the situation can be righted, and no one has to be the victim or loser.

When you're facing defeat, look more closely for the victory. At some point it will be clear, and a larger, divine plan will become visible.

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