I’d be lying if I said I love to make a plan. I’m definitely more of a stay home, order pizza on a whim, and watch a movie type. I don’t like the process of coordinating schedules, and I get lost in all the details. But even still, I rely heavily on having a plan. I come from a large family, and for as long as I can remember, family events have been wild fiascos of trying to get at least a dozen people to the right place at the right time. There's really no way to embrace spontaneity with that many moving parts.
So despite my nature, I do make plans. I make lots of plans. My fiancé does too. Our dates are both lovely and romantic, but also punctual and, in a sense, efficient. We don’t always plan big outings, but when we do, every detail is accounted for. When it came to our proposal even, we also planned everything out—together.
If and when something goes wrong, I have a tendency to get annoyed. I get annoyed when my plans depend on someone else who has planned little or nothing at all. I get annoyed when unexpected construction sets my travel time back ten minutes. But I recently started to reconsider my ways.
Not long ago my family celebrated the wedding of one of my brothers. In the midst of this hullabaloo, I noticed something quite striking. My oldest sister came late because one of her little girls refused to put on a dress, and her husband had forgotten to pack a tie and had to quickly pick one up on the way to the wedding. My brother also came late because of unforeseen setbacks with his baby boy. But when they arrived, it was no big deal. They were later than they were supposed to be, but not too late, and no one was mad.
What struck me is that they apologized once and let it go. There was nothing they could do. They made a plan, it didn’t happen, and it was okay.
When it comes to a family wedding, it’s easy enough to see that. It’s such a joyous occasion that no one can stay mad for very long anyway. When you’re standing at the gateway to forever, it’s hard to be upset over a few minutes delay. It was the first example I saw of something my mom had talked about just two weeks before.
My mother and I had a long talk when I told her that my then-boyfriend wanted to propose. I knew he wanted to propose because he and I were planning nearly the whole affair together. She knew how attached I could get to my plans, and she told me I got that from her. But she also warned me how dangerous it can be to hold to those plans too rigidly. She knew that firsthand.
My father was diagnosed with cancer when I was 2 years old. I don’t remember him, and I don’t remember that time of great suffering, but as I talked with my mom, I heard for the first time what her initial response was. She needed to plan. There she was being handed a terminal diagnosis, and she was trying to schedule and plan it away. But there is no planning for cancer. There is no planning for being a single mother of eight. None of it could be planned or scheduled. She realized after many long, hard years that she could never account for everything and that in trying to do so she hurt herself and those around her. So with the gentle tenderness only a mother knows, she told me to stop planning. That night I told my fiancé that I didn’t want to know when he asked my parents for my hand.
The next few weeks were pretty awful. My stomach twisted in knots wondering when he’d ask and what they’d say. But there was an excitement and a growing joy in letting go. I realized I could be happy without having a roadmap for every little thing. Watching as my brother’s wedding unfolded, I realized that the less preoccupied they were with the details, the more room they had for the joy of the occasion.
I think of my mother’s advice frequently now, as one wedding plan or another falls through. Our colors have changed, our location and venues have changed, our guest count has changed, our budget has changed, our music has changed. Sometimes it feels like who I’m marrying is the only thing that hasn’t changed! But the most important change has been in how I handle it. Does it matter in the long run that I once upon a time wanted sage green and now I’m going with teal? No. No one is going to care. Few people are even going to remember my colors five years down the road.
I still do a lot of planning. But now I take a break every time I’m feeling more stressed than blessed about my wedding. I talk to my fiancé and remind myself why we’re planning this beautiful event in the first place. I’m glad to know that it’s OK to let it go. I still plan things, but I try to allow for opportunities for unexpected details—and perhaps greater joys—to fill themselves in.
Photo Credit: Du Castel Photography