The Best Laid Plans

We can't remember to handle every contingency in advance.

Posted Feb 27, 2010

I often fault myself for not being more aware and more skillful. I forget that as human beings we are built to minimize the amount of information pouring into us every minute. We guard ourselves against overload by shutting out information. That's sometimes beneficial but sometimes, when we ignore important things, it's not.

The other night I was doing a radio interview. I was invited on a show hosted by Dr. Bob Hieronimus broadcast out of the Baltimore Washington area. Dr. Bob is a wonderful, fascinating man - an artist, writer and thinker, highly regarded for his work on American symbols.

I have been trying to get the hang of this radio interviewing business. I love talking in front of audiences where I can see people. Carrying on a conversation that is broadcast to folks I cannot see across the country as I sit in my house is not as easy for me. I decided to be really well prepared. Dr. Bob certainly was. He is a very skillful host and had read my book thoroughly and we were working from a list of questions that we shared.

I am used to talking standing up when I speak to audiences, so for the first time I tried walking around as I talked. I had my remote phone and I could move and respond as I would in front of a group while Dr. Bob asked me questions.

I also wanted to have the house very quiet and free from distractions. The interview was from 5 to 6:30 pm my time. It's winter here. The sun goes down about 5:45. I turned my cell phone off. I asked my son and grandson, who were visiting, to stay away from the house while I was on the phone. I had my notes. I was all set. There was no one around and everything was peaceful.

The call came. The interview started. Dr. Bob was so beautifully gracious and thoughtful. We began to talk. He helped me feel comfortable. The answers came easily. "Wow" I thought. "This is going really well." And then.........

Last fall after my beloved cat, Sam, died, we adopted my son's cat, Tillie. Tillie spent her formative years in suburban Seattle, where the most intimidating thing she encountered was a neighborhood dog. Since she also lived with dogs, she wasn't all that bothered even then. But we live in the woods - not suburban Seattle. We became concerned that Tillie didn't seem to notice the difference between a coyote and a domesticated dog, much less understand the threat of bobcats and foxes and even the occasional mountain lion. So Tillie has to spend the nights inside.

We accomplish getting her inside every night with what my son calls "the power of the can opener."

There I was in mid-interview and I had forgotten Tillie's daily date with the catfood can at dusk. It was 5:45 and in she marched. Tillie's tummy is a good as any clock. I was in the midst of a story and Tillie started stamping up and down looking for her tuna. Tillie is interested in Tillie. The fact that I was doing a radio interview mattered not to her. I was there. I was supposed to do what she wanted and Tillie is loud. When Tillie does not get what she demands with an ordinary "meow", she shouts. Amazing how anything that small can make that much noise.

It's not like I could tell all those nice people in Baltimore and Washington "Wait a minute. I have to feed the cat." I was doing a radio interview and I had to keep on telling stories and responding to Dr. Bob's wonderful questions. Since I was holding the remote phone with one hand so I could walk around, that left me only one hand to open the catfood can. It was hilarious as I struggled with the can opener, the cat food dish, the cat (who danced around my feet when she smelled the tuna) and kept my focus on talking on the radio the whole time. The radio interview went fine thanks to Dr. Bob's skillful interviewing. Click here to listen to the show. Later when I tried to tell my grandson about the interview, I laughed so hard at my own forgetting to plan for the cat that I had tears in my eyes.

We can't remember to handle every contingency in advance. We can never be fully prepared no matter how much we try. If we can find humor in what happens and be patient with ourselves, accepting this becomes much easier.

About the Author

Alison Bonds Shapiro, M.B.A., works with stroke survivors and their families, and is the author of Healing into Possibility: the Transformational Lessons of a Stroke.

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