I wasn't raised in a religious family, but one of my mom's favorite phrases is, "If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans." My mom's life is living proof of the twists and turns one can hold, but as an obsessive planner, I've always held a grudge against the phrase. Plans have always been an enormous source of comfort for me, and the idea that external forces could explode my Ten Minute, Ten Day, and Ten Year scenarios to smithereens is not something I like to think about. My life has held its fair share of unwelcome pivots in the form of deaths, breakups, job losses, moves, and letdowns, but for the most part, I've been able to stay on course or quickly get back on it. I've worked hard, but I've also been lucky enough to do nearly everything I've dreamed of doing at this point: attending college, living in New York, traveling, making a living as a writer, sharing my life with a partner I love, moving back to Los Angeles, purchasing land in anticipation of the future.
The coronavirus has been the first time in my life that I can feel just how fragile plans really are.
Last week, just when we'd started to feel ourselves softening into the grooves of our routine, Jonah and I had to leave our Lysol-ed fortress with very little warning for a non-COVID-related family medical emergency in San Diego. It's a decision we did not take lightly, and one we made only after we could ensure that we would only be coming into contact with that family member, for our safety and the safety of others. After a week of caring for them, we were able to return to Los Angeles on Saturday and are as careful as ever to be socially distanced.
I'm so thankful we were able to care for them (without going into detail, the pain left them practically immobile for the week), but it was a particularly apt reminder of how quickly life can be shaken up. We went from going six weeks where every day felt so similar we frequently felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, to throwing things in our suitcase and flying out the door in a matter of minutes at the mercy of a not-yet-diagnosed condition. (Back on the flip side of things, I can confirm it took us approximately one day to get back into our regular routine.)
There are countless frightening things about this virus that I don't need to go into because you already know them all by heart (and believe me, I am terrified of all of those things too). But one of the scariest things, for me, is how precarious it's made the future.*
When Jonah and I postponed our wedding in March, we began loosely planning to have it the following March. But many of the factors I once took for granted—that our dads, both in their late 70s, will be healthy in a year or that we'll be able to afford the modest party we had planned, to name two—no longer feel like givens. When Jonah brings up the wedding now, wondering aloud if we should provide a date to our friends, my reaction is always, "if we have a wedding."
It hurts his feelings every time, but a big part of me wants to cut our losses. We're living in a new world, where time is now measured in two-week increments—an entire year is barely fathomable. I'm looking at every plan we'd made for the next year (forget about the next five years) as something that will most likely be cancelled or augmented. At one point, we'd planned on taking a several-week honeymoon, but now I want to keep the money we've already saved for a rainy (or virus-y) day.
This weekend, Jonah and I are planning to get married in our officiant's front yard, in an awkward six-foot-apart dance that will include masks, excessive Purell, and our own pens. At the moment we sign it, we'll be legally married, but we'll still have the option of never dropping it in the mail to be processed. We could easily tear it up, pretending it never happened as we plan for our future wedding date. This decision—of whether we head to the blue postal box at the end of our block after the mini-ceremony—has turned into a weird metaphor for our trust in the future. If we could guarantee we'd have a wedding in a year, we'd be in no rush to do it now, but those plans can no longer be set in stone.
My best guess is that we'll land somewhere in the middle, making plans but also taking action now, to limit the destruction from future pivots. We're planning on getting legally married now so that if our 2021 wedding is cancelled, at least the practical end will have been taken care of. (Romance!)
And that's just one piece of the increasingly complicated puzzle. I find myself asking questions I never thought I'd have to: Are our careers strong enough to survive another pandemic? Should we have kids, knowing this likely won't be the last pandemic or even the worst? All I can do in this moment is make plans, and call upon another of my mom's favorite phrases: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
*But, to be clear, I am also very afraid of myself or anyone else I love catching it. Stay safe!!