“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans,” John Lennon famously sang. Or cautioned.
“Beautiful Boy,” the song in which the line appears, was an ode to his young son Sean, and was released shortly before Lennon’s murder, adding an extra layer of bitter sweet to the sentiment. But the idea, that your life is often occurring while your head is elsewhere making plans for a future that may or may not come to fruition, applies to nearly everything these days. And in the ways even Lennon would probably have had a hard time envisioning.
There is precisely nothing about our modern lives which encourages us to be present in the moment. The entire premise of the digital age is to bifurcate our every experience so that we are always in a minimum of two places at once: Our corporeal lives, which we have no choice about (though, no doubt, someone is working on that); and our virtual ones. Even as I type this, my mind is trying to drag me away down an Instagram/Twitter/Email/messaging hole.
And yet, the world, the real burning, drowning, pandemic-ridden world, currently has other ideas it seems.
There has been a meme going around this month about the effect of the Delta variant on all of our fall plans. Back in May, when the CDC largely lifted restrictions on those of us who are fully vaccinated, and borders began opening up (for Americans, at least; the U.S. remains closed to almost everyone) many of us thought the world was returning to normal. ‘Normal’ being the lives we had been living up until March 2020. We began to make plans. Plans to see people, plans to travel, plans to celebrate, plans to be together, plans to return our children to lives that did not require our presence twenty-four seven. Plans plans plans.
Cut to August. And here we are again with rising numbers, masking mandates, shutting borders, overrun hospitals, and school schedules in question. There is another saying, a variation on the Yiddish, “We plan, God laughs,” that I have always hated for its cynicism: You know how to make God laugh. Tell him your plans.
No one I know is laughing right now. Here we are in the last week of summer. In many places schools have started already, despite the fact children still don’t have access to a vaccine and mask mandates remain an idiotic hot topic. In many places, it’s starting to seem like the promise of schools being open may not come to fruition. Parents aren’t breaking, they are broken. And then there is the weather. Half the country is drowning while the other half is struggling to breathe.
As I’ve written in previous newsletters, I’ve been in France this month. Back in May when I made these plans, a number of friends also planned to come join me for Labor Day weekend. This week they all cancelled. Delta numbers are making travel too precarious. Not being able to go to Paris for a long weekend is the definition of an extremely nice problem to have, but it also drives home in a somewhat direct way that we are now living in a world where plans are not possible.
We have every app imaginable to organize our lives so that nothing is left to fate. Google Maps to tell us where to go so we’re never lost. Weather apps to tell us when. For our bodies, we have period apps; fertility apps; exercise apps; calorie apps. The entire goal of the internet age is largely to ensure that nothing is left to chance. There are even algorithms to tell us what we like.
The planet does not care about any of these things. Right now the planet is forcing us, in terrible and punishing ways, to live far closer to the moment than even the most carefree of us may be comfortable with. We are for the foreseeable future in the Age of No Plans.
The brutal irony of this, of course, is that amidst all this, providing a larger increasingly ominous backdrop to our future, is the environment. An emergency that requires us to make long term plans and then stick with them, even if we ourselves may never see the outcome.
And so as we come to the end of our Delta Variant summer, it seems we are being asked to both live in the moment, with all the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with doing so. And at the same time, make decisions about a future that is just far enough away that its lines are fuzzy. Neither are fun. And neither feel particularly fair. But both are necessary. This is the new normal, no matter what our phones want us to believe.
I wish I could end the last newsletter of summer on a happier note. Say, ten best bathing suits inspired by La Piscine. But that would be making other plans for a world that has other plans for us. We are getting a very real life reality check right now. We’re going to have to be here now, whether we want to or not.