Life left to chance

3 11 2010

Throughout my time here on Earth, I have tried various methods of organization to order my days, all with little success. The trash bins of my life are stuffed full of organizers, calenders and schedulers purchased by my well-meaning mother. Often she will say to me “You will be so much happier if you just use this,” to which I will reply, “I know;” but on some level, I obviously don’t, for I never do follow her advice.

Of course, a life that is less structured is more open to moments of serendipity than one lived in a closed loop. Chance encounters, spontaneous ideas, unexpected adventure … such things all depend upon the fact that they can’t be planned for or anticipated.

But these surprises can also be negative in nature, and I am often forced to endure unpleasant experiences that could have been avoided easily by taking action at an earlier date. Sometimes lacking plans can be just as stressful as trying to make them.

An example:

I will briefly point to an sequence of events that, taken in its entirety, was quite epic. I had flown to Europe to visit Lauren, my girlfriend now and at the time then, who was staying in Italy as part of a summer study abroad trip with our university. It was Lauren’s third trip to the country through the program, so she was serving as a kind of student supervisor and had a certain level of fluency with the language.

I timed my trip to coincide with a week-long break in the academic schedule. Our joint travel goal revolved around a visit to Croatia, the land of my forefathers and a mere boat ride across the Mediterranean from Italy. Unfortunately, none of our itinerary quite panned out as planned, mostly because there was so little in the way of a plan.

Once I arrived, my lack of preparedness immediately made itself known. I had done little to learn the language ahead of the trip. At the airport, I had trouble communicating my desire to purchase a sandwich because I kept pointing to a counter full of various versions of the lunch item and simply saying “I would like a sandwich” in Italian. It was a little bit like going to a Pizza Hut here and saying “I would like a pizza.” Your mere presence in the establishment indicates your desire for its product but some further specificity is required to complete the transaction.

When I made it to the village where Lauren and her fellow students were staying, I quickly become confounded by the bus system. Instead of paying attention to the bus numbers and bus stops, I idly rode along. On one occasion, this resulted in me riding on a particularly bus for the entire length of its route without getting off, which required me to then hop on a different bus and go all the way back.

This delay was particularly exacerbating because Lauren was waiting for me back at the hostel so that we could catch a train together. My tardiness meant that we missed our planned 7 p.m. departure and had to take an 11 p.m. ride in a train absolutely packed full of Italians. It was a six-hour, overnight trip, and we literally slept squatting in the small hallway outside the cabins. In another sign of poor foresight, we had failed to realize the weekend was also a national Italian holiday, prompting the large number of travelers.

When we arrived at our destination, a small town from which we would board a ferry to Croatia, we discovered that the boats there had stopped running earlier in the summer. And I say “summer” but the weather at that moment was a drizzly 50 degrees — more like London than Rome.

Where we actually wanted to be was a three-hour train ride back the way we had come. By the time finally made it to the proper town, we had been basically awake for 24 hours. At the ticket window for the ferry, we had to wait for a solid hour behind a group of rowdy Greeks.

Wearily, we conversed with the teller at the ticket window and made yet another unfortunate discovery. The only ferry left to take us across, a trip that we had assumed (you know what they say about that) would be a relatively short voyage, was a 12-hour overnighter with the only available space above decks.  It was more than we could take in our bedraggled state. We relented in our quest to see Croatia, found a hotel and slept for 14 hours.

When I woke up, I thought, as I have many times, “I should have listened to my mother.”

Yet, I am seasoned veteran of missing my target as a result of shooting from the hip so often. One of the things you quickly learn when you frequently fall into such hapless affairs is how to make a go out of it regardless.

So when we woke up and looked at the windows to see the cold and gray of the previous days had decided to stick around, we both quickly agreed that, fuck it, we wanted to go somewhere hot. We found a cheap roundtrip flight to Valencia, Spain, and were off within a few hours. The beaches were beautiful, the wine red and heady, and the walks together long.

So sure, we suffered as a direct result of poor planning and a lack of organization. The trauma of the overstuffed train ride, the disappointment of an empty harbor —  these were all moments that could have been negated had we been better prepared with a well-thought plan.

Yet, although the trip had been, for the most part, a major disaster, in those last few days we found something that brought us together in a way that no carefully planned itinerary ever could. Our previous failures had tied us closer together instead of pulling us apart and also gave our sudden success a sweetness it would have been lacking otherwise.

In the end, it’s hard for me to say which kind of life is best, which is fine by me because, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure I could plan to make things any different.

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