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I used to hate that phrase. It’s usually offered with a shrug after something far less than ideal has happened to someone who had a very different plan in mind, as if pointing out that life is out of our control is any sort of consolation. I’ve always thought it a particularly unreasonable phrase for a perfectionist like me. “ ‘That’s life’? You expect me to just accept that my perfect, storybook, Hollywood blockbuster-level plan fell apart because that’s just how life is? No thank you. And if in fact things don’t go well, I’m going to pout like a toddler whose sibling just took the last french fry. Just so you’re prepared.”
At least, historically, all of that has been true. I’ve hated my plans being ruined, largely because the reason I picked those plans is because I had a specific outcome in mind.
“Ok, my boyfriend and I are going to go on a super cute canoeing trip early in the morning (That way I can post an expertly filtered photo of us with the sunrise that I’ll claim #nofilter). There won’t be a cloud in the sky, we’ll laugh and talk, and just sit in the middle of the lake looking longingly into one another’s eyes. It’ll be a real Noah and Alli moment.”
In reality, neither my boyfriend nor I will get enough sleep the night before and be painfully grumpy. I’ll be running late because sunrise is an absurd time to expect someone who could sleep till noon to be anywhere. We’ll argue the whole way because we’re lost and would both rather be back in our beds. And then instead of laughing off the fact that I’m apparently inept at rowing, he’ll row alone, and we’ll just sit. In silence. Awkwardly.
Years of fantasizing about the perfect moments and plans has taught me that life is rarely prepared to meet those expectations. Instead, it is fully able and completely willing to give us something far more memorable. Something so perfectly imperfect that it trumps any of the plans we had. It gives us a twisted, unimaginable, beautiful mess.
You see it’s really in those spoiled plans, detours and unexpected turns where real life happens.
Those are the memories that rise above the rest and the stories you tell time and time again. Like that time that you accidentally took four Benedryl on an airplane and spent your first day in Iceland stoned, or when you planned a fancy dinner with your boyfriend and you projectile vomited all over his nice dress shirt (and in his hair) right outside the restaurant. Or what about that time you got food poisoning and then fainted on the bathroom floor of an airplane, or when you sat in traffic for six hours on a road trip and all you had in the car to eat was chips and condiments? (Ok, maybe all of that is just me)
Each of those stories and seemingly ruined moments are some of my favorite memories looking back now. Each time I recount one of those episodes, you can see the listener relate. Not because they’ve experienced the exact same circumstance, but because they know the feeling of finding themselves in the middle of the absurd. Not one of us escapes this life without encountering the unforeseen amidst our plans. We’ve all been there.
We bond, and empathize, and feel understood in the middle of the frustrating, the disappointing and the laughable.
We’ve all had a few times in life where we probably could have said “that went perfectly”, but I couldn’t name you one off the top of my head. I could, however, list a hundred other moments where everything went horribly wrong. They come to mind not because my focus is on the negative, but because it was in the thick of the mess that I learned to embrace the inevitable imperfection, and realized that real life happens in the moments you didn’t plan. To fight it is a losing battle with the uncontrollable, and a blindfold to the authenticity of the moment that you’re in.
I've made the choice to tap out of the fight, but if you’re still determined to be in, I wish you unceasing perseverance, as you’re in a battle that you can not win. I swear no one has ever done it. There is no reason you’ll be the first.
To truly live is to learn to roll through the mess, or maybe even around in it, and look for the “real” masquerading as disaster. Soak in the genuine with the outrageous and let that be the memory that you carry. Because that’s *real* life.