One afternoon I had an appointment with a new patient. At the time he was a gentleman two times plus my age, in fact close to my father’s maturity. We sat down and engaged in a few minutes of general get-acquainted chatting. Along the way he posed a question to me.
“So, for how long do you think you’ll be practicing?”
“I’m sure I’ll be right here in this chair puffing a pipe when I can barely walk,” I answered with the type of certitude reserved for a young professional.
He bellowed, not so much to mock me as to appreciate my ignorance.
“Man makes plans, and god laughs,” he informed me, unable to stop chuckling. “It’s an old Yiddish expression.”
After he finally reclaimed his composure he went on to explain the proverb.
“Let’s admit it, we as human beings are trained from early on to believe we are the master of our own ship. We plan our lives and take for granted things will enfold as anticipated. But how often are our worlds turned dreadfully upside-down owing to an unanticipated outcome? We might say that it is at the tail end of one of these frightful shocks that we become religious.
“It’s a wise saying: ‘Man makes plans, and god laughs.’ He’s liberating us, giving us freedom by letting us know that no matter what we do, He’ll have the last word.” His words were delivered with a smile and a wink.
While he was speaking, I was reminiscing on an earlier era in my life when it seemed Mercury had descended on me with all the volatility and fickleness it’s famous for bringing to our lives. I had graduated college—on my way to a career in both accounting and law—when a funny thing happened. I was talking with a friend when I suddenly realized that the goals I was pursuing belonged to my family rather than me; I could never envision myself as an attorney and the introductory courses I had taken in accounting were as appealing to me as boiled beer. At that instant of enlightenment, so many years in the past, I recall my eyes being drawn upward. That’s when I was confronted with what I implicitly knew to be my personal deity. The Man was busting up laughing at what He took as a grand ruse—I remembered the experience as if it were happening at that instant, but the reverie was interrupted when I heard my new client’s voice.
“Well, the reason I contacted you is because I’m trapped in a bit of a pickle.” His demeanor saddened but he wasn’t weepy. Instead I noticed him speaking bravely and with pride, in spite of the disastrous news he’d soon share. “It’s not about me that I’m actually here…I’m sure you could argue it is, but I don’t see it that way.”
“You have my curiosity peaked.”
“I’m going to be sending my wife to see you,” he revealed as if he were reading his own will. “She’ll relate quite well with you; I can tell.”
“I’ll be glad to see her but don’t you want to give me a clue what this is about?”
“Sure. I’m sixty-three. Last week I was diagnosed with advanced terminal lung cancer—guess I ignored the symptoms too long.”
“That’s not what I need. I’ll be gone within a month. I haven’t told my wife yet. She’s a very private and shy woman. She has no family. It’s been she and I together for the last forty years—we never had children.” He paused briefly. “Don’t look so scared. I’m not asking you to find her a spouse—she is an attractive woman for her age and I’m sure in time she’ll do well for herself. Just help her through it.”
“Why me?” I noticed the words struck out like horns on an angry bull. Quickly I realized that I was scared.
“Dr. Richie is my good friend,” he answered with a smile.
The esteemed man was my mentor, a famous clinician who had retired close in time to me beginning my practice—I had wondered initially when he announced he’d no longer be accepting patients if the frustration of training me had done him in.
“He was certain you’d be the perfect man for the job.”
I wanted to tell him I was declining the assignment, argue that Richie was an old coot and had obviously mistaken my ability. I did not want to share with him that I was terrified…I didn’t have to.
“He told me to tell you that you have permission to crap in your pants…also that you’ll figure out what to do.”
Richie was correct. When I had been in training, I had the fortune of always drawing the most bizarre, complex and intimidating cases; and it never ceased once I entered practice. In fact, I began wondering if my colleagues were sending me every situation they wanted to clear out of their office. That said, I took on all these wild people—and the lessons I learned from these odd sorts kept coming my way faster than a mood can swing.
Mr. Hitchcock (the subject of this tale) died nearly to the scheduled date he had presented to me during our first meeting. I kept his wife company during the aftermath. I listened to her revisit forty years of tender and intimate memories of her life with her husband; I sat with her as she cried—and shared a few sniffles of my own along the way. I never interfered while she was venting her fears and anger, and I watched and waited patiently as her heart and inner spirit began healing from within.
I noticed gradually she started expanding her activities and her energy level increased. There were even moments after nearly a year when she’d express humor, exhibiting a playful mood here and there. Then one afternoon when she came in she looked at me with a curious grin on her face.
“I have something to share with you,” she announced. “I’m seeing Mr. Arthur. We met a few weeks ago when I was waiting to see you and we’ve been going out since.”
Bob Arthur was a man who five years prior had lost his wife in a tragic accident. He couldn’t get over the loss and I’d been seeing him weekly for the prior six months. It was his impression that his life was hopeless, the prospect of being alone for the rest of his existence practically unendurable to him. His sessions preceded Mrs. Hitchcock’s. During the ten minutes between the two seeing me, they must have struck up a relationship.
What a magician I was. I fixed two lives at one time. Yet in fairness if I could be accused of any conscious intent toward these souls it had nothing to do with them bonding with one another. Did someone say something about man making plans and god laughing?
Precisely one year later, I attended their wedding.
“None of this to the slightest degree had I planned or contributed to; it all unfolded independent of my volition. My perception was that my life prior to this time had been determined by my direct efforts, dedicating energy to accomplish one endeavor after another. But now, looking back I wondered if I had essentially done no more than run in circles. All those roads, did they lead anywhere? Would I have ended up in the same place regardless? ” – Zach Miller, Mistaken Enemy
Click the links below to share this post with a friend.