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Making Plans for the Unplannable

When I first moved back to rural western Pennsylvania at the end of 2019, after almost 4 years in New York City, I knew there would be some adjustments. I also knew that I was leaving a place where my own two feet took me almost anywhere I needed to go, and temporarily relocating to a place where you can get anywhere you need in under 30 minutes… as long as you have a car.


The more I thought about this, the more it bummed me out. I’m someone who lives for a good walk. That’s when I call my family and friends to catch up. It’s how I listen to podcasts or music. It’s where I think and observe—or where I zone out and relax. It’s also a simple way I build some physical activity into my life. If I’m going to talk to someone on the phone for 30 minutes, I might as well be moving. But movement doesn’t come as naturally in a place where you drive from store to restaurant to home. I would need to be intentional about this. I would need to plan walking as a priority.


So as the calendar switched to December 1, 2019, I posed a challenge to my family—whoever had the most average steps per day by Christmas would win a prize. Because nobody is as competitive as I am (and because my brother doesn’t run with his phone) I won and jokingly handed the scratch off lottery tickets I had purchased back for the winner to myself. (A fun aside: I split the tickets amongst my parents, brothers, and sister-in-law and every single person had a winning ticket except me. Incredibly funny.)


I had gotten so much joy out of my daily commitment to walking or running a minimum of 10,000 steps that month, that I continued the practice into January, February, March 2020. It was a seemingly simple activity. But every single day I made the intentional choice to put on my shoes—despite the weather—and move.


Then, in March 2020, a week and change before I was set to move back to New York City, the world shut down.


It felt, at first, like we had collectively pressed pause. I ordered groceries online. I talked to my friends in different parts of the country. I glued myself to the news. And then… I got up and walked.


I walked in a bandana. Later a mask. Later no mask. I walked and waved at neighbors from a distance… no need to get too close. There was uncertainty… or as every email I received at the time reminded me: these are unprecedented times.


I spend a lot of time planning. I color code my calendar. Pink highlights are pay days; social events, blue; work things, green. I create working documents for big projects. I schedule out each Smile Project blog post. I do everything I can to prepare for the things I want to do, see, accomplish, and be in my lifetime.


And then things happen. The world flips upside down. And no amount of organization can stop it.


There’s two questions I keep in the note section of my phone:

  1. Are you ready for what you have planned?

  2. Are you ready for what you don’t have planned?


I couldn’t have dreamed up a scenario in which the last two years played out the way that they did. And was I ready? Of course not. I don’t think anybody was or is ready for that kind of societal life shock.


But there are parts of me that have always been readying myself for “unprecedented times…” like the part of me that walks every day because I know it’s good for my physical and mental health.


I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know I’ve made a commitment to move my body in a way that makes me feel refreshed, energized, and hopeful. And that’s a start.


I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know that when I was 17, I decided to start journaling daily “Happiness is” and I know that no matter what, I will find some beauty in the day.


I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but every single day that I show up and do my best and work hard and take care of myself, I am preparing not just for the beautiful dreams and goals and aspirations in the inner workings of my heart, but for the unexpected, tragic, painful events that blindside you at 8:30 on a quiet Wednesday morning.


So here’s to the things we plan for. May we make our dreams come true. And here’s to the things we could never expect. May we have it within ourselves to handle them with grace, kindness, patience, and understanding.


Love always,

Liz