I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood,and I

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

[from The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost]

A lot is said about having a plan and executing it faithfully; or attempting to execute it, and allowing for adjustments, since what good is an inflexible plan? Circumstances change all the time and affect everything, even the best intentions. Don’t they?

Who can prepare for all possibilities? Look at what happened the other day in Iraq. Who knew? What follows?

In my day-to-day life, I follow a plan. I wake up, go through my breakfast routine and then write for four to six hours a day, every day. I take it easy in the late afternoon. I am happy.

I have a second plan, which is about what I write. I am working on a novel — something from nothing — and therefore it has to have a beginning, a middle, an end, a point of view, moments of high drama and conflict and a resolution. It has to have chapters. Characters, good and bad. Endearing characters is a must. Endearing and real, believable, with good traits and bad mixed within. A novel is a long-term commitment — maybe years. A marathon. As such, it requires planning. There are those who swear by having a complete outline and plan every detail, and those who simply let themselves go. My approach is of the second kind. When I write, I often lose track. My inspiration carries me up and onward. It carries me away and causes me to deviate. When that happens, my wife says I write from my heart. My plan contains a general outline and bulleted thoughts that represent scenes. One after the other. As I advance, I revise as I must. Add bullets. I make annotations and, since my novel is based on reality, I often think of my life.

For instance, I recall a high school graduation dance, in May of 1969, in Bucharest. Little did I know that evening would be life altering and, for sure, I had not planned it. But the day after the dance, my life was changed, and, I guess, my wife’s life, too. We had attended the same high school, had known each other for two years, not well, never exchanging more than a few words in the hallways, and then we danced. We danced again. It happened!

The next event that impacted our lives was that she and her family left communist Romania for Israel. When they applied for permission to emigrate, she was eighteen. She didn’t plan it. Somebody else did, and we lived with the consequences. In spite of all odds, our love survived and five years later we got married. Then, I did plan the next step. I applied for a passport to leave Romania as well and go to Israel. Getting such permission was a lottery back then. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I got lucky.

Once in Israel, we decided to settle someplace else. First we considered West Germany but they didn’t want us. Then France. Then Canada. To go to Canada, we were told to go to Greece and ask for political asylum. There we were told we could not go to Canada, and to choose between the US, Australia and New Zeeland. Somehow the other side of the globe seemed far. The choice was easy. Not planned, but obvious.

When we arrived in New York, my wife was pregnant. That wasn’t planned either. We loved it. After our daughter was born, we my wife delivered our son fourteen months later. A girl, a boy, a happy ending.

Then we moved from New York to Columbia, MD, for my job. It happened: there was an opening for a position I was interested in, I came down for the interview and got hired. It also happened that I stayed with the company for the next thirty-five years.

On the day of my interview I took a little time to visit Columbia. It was modern, clean, green and beautiful. I did not know then that it was a planned community, divided into 8 villages with shopping centers, hidden gas stations and no billboards. I was unable to appreciate what the proximity to Baltimore and Washington DC represented. I had never heard of Jim Rouse. Yet, we moved here and benefitted from all that this growing town had to offer: good schools, peaceful living and wonderful people. Last month I read that Columbia was voted the safest city in the nation. Fate? Destiny? Coincidence?

Our two children are now accomplished adults with families of their own. While they were growing up, we didn’t have a plan for them, but rather allowed nature to take its course supporting their talent and interests. They were free and responsible, and we didn’t have to worry. There was only one thing we didn’t compromise on: a college education. I have to say it was a firm edict.

So here I am. A quick review to start a new year: no plan, just roads I took — this, that and the other. Of course, I could have not gone to that graduation dance. Or I could have danced with someone else. We could have emigrated to Australia. We could have had two girls, instead of a daughter and a son, or three girls, or eleven. I could have taken a job in Ashtabula, Ohio or Bismarck, North Dakota. But I didn’t. And somehow, the various paths joined and led me to the novel of my unplanned life that I would not ever want to be different.

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