What sense can any of us make of life’s crazy twists and turns?
In the winter of 1977, I was very, very surprisingly, accepted by a prestigious college. In the summer of 1977, I was very, very unsurprisingly unaccepted by that college. Very, very angry, I tore up the rejection letter, threw it behind the back seat of my VW Bug, and, without telling my parents what happened, resolved to continue working in Houston and forego college.
As fall approached, my parents often asked if I’d heard what date classes would start, but I’d quickly change the subject. This worked until one early September day when my red-faced mom came crashing into my room waving the rejection letter she’d carefully taped back together.
“What’s this?” she screamed as my stunned father walked in the room behind her.
“Oh, yeah,” I stammered backing away from a charging mom, “I forgot to tell you I’m not going to college.”
“Oh, yes you are!” my mother – who bitterly regretted her own foreshortened college career – declared as she spun on her heels and gestured for dad to follow.
Dad was a traveling salesman who enjoyed visiting college libraries on his trips around Texas. The week before, he’d visited a tiny school, the University of Dallas in Irving (I know, I know), and thought they just might be desperate enough to accept a nonapplicant the day before classes started.
The next morning, with only the shirts on our backs, dad and I flew to Dallas. The plan was that, if by some miracle they accepted me, I’d return to Houston, quit my job, pack my things, and fly back to Dallas to start school.
At first, the admissions officer laughed at our loony proposal, but my supersalesman father persisted until she reluctantly agreed. She did, however, insist that I not return to Houston because I needed to start classes the next day. So, my father drove me to a nearby store to buy underwear, socks, and a toothbrush.
Back at UD, my father shook my hand and wished me luck. I got out of the car and stood there alone in the gathering dusk holding two shopping bags. As he rushed to the airport, I shouted after him, “What’s the name of this school again?” But he drove on. Forlorn, I turned to walk into my dorm with my head hung low absolutely convinced that no good could ever come from this screwy deal.
Naturally, my four years at UD were among the best of my life. I, also, met and married my beautiful wife of forty years while a student there.
I remembered all this recently as I gazed upon my perfect nine-month-old grandson. I also recalled a million other unplanned, unforeseen, and unwanted events in the lives of his parents and grandparents that miraculously stitched together the circumstances that resulted in the birth of this baby without whose luminous presence the universe would be infinitely diminished.
I always think I know exactly what my family and I need, and I get angry when things don’t go my way. But what if St. Theresa was right when she said, “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones”?
Maybe this new year instead of getting angry when we don’t get what we want, we should look at the people we love and their incalculable worth and appreciate the fact that there’s a plan far beyond our reckoning that somehow resulted in the miracles of their existence. And, after acknowledging the undeniable miracles that plan has wrought, perhaps we should consider a peaceful surrendering of ourselves to its wisdom going forward?
Because the events of our lives often seem so random – and sometimes even cruel – in real time, trusting that plan is about the most difficult thing you can do. Frankly, it’s something I’ve only been able to do in the last few years and sporadically at best. But after fifty years of searching, it’s the only way I’ve found to achieve true peace in this fallen world.
Have a Happy New Year.