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Man Plans, and God Laughs

Life is unpredictable, and unexpected changes will inevitably occur.

“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is an old Yiddish adage meaning, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.” Despite our most careful planning, the Road of Life is unpredictable. We might have driving and destination strategies but scenic new vistas might beckon us or unforeseen roadblocks can deter us.

Our best-laid plans in life can be upended by unexpected changes, which could be either disappointing or exhilarating. Personal or other setbacks, losses of loved ones, illnesses or accidents, broken hearts or tortured souls, are not uncommon occurrences in our lives. On the other hand, fate can provide unanticipated good fortune or heartening experiences.

Thus we all live with some degree of uncertainty both on a personal basis as well as from a national and international perspective. The latter is especially so considering the ominous news of upheavals in Mother Nature, health scares, and roiling domestic and military violence.

In spite of possible calamities, we are urged to think positively, maintain a spirit of optimism and not dwell on negative possibilities. But this advice is difficult to follow when serious problems abound.

What to do? We can’t go through life being constantly vigilant, at least if we wish some semblance of inner peace. The vast majority of us have developed the ability to compartmentalize or cognitively wall off our vulnerabilities.

We put thoughts of danger into a safe compartment in our minds, so that the fears of unpredictable hazards don’t interfere with our everyday lives.

We try as best we can to minimize the possibilities of bad stuff happening by, for example, childproofing our homes, wearing helmets when biking and sunscreen when sunning, eating healthy foods, avoiding dangerous situations, and purchasing various kinds of insurance.

But deep down we realize that we can’t stave off disastrous acts of Mother Nature or Father Fate. We can't prevent all accidents from happening, nor can we always keep our loved ones safe and sound.

We do learn (usually by personal experience) that setbacks and tragedies, like pleasures and successes, are “natural” parts of the ebb and flow of life.

When confronted by setbacks or losses, clichés abound, and we’re advised to “Ride the waves, roll with the punches,” but we are sentient emotional beings, not robots: We respond emotionally. We try to avoid emotional or physical pain which can distress and sadden us.

Even in dark times, however, we know at some level that “this too shall pass.” After initial terrible feelings, we gather our thoughts, bring our strengths to bear, and we do overcome. In these periods, we remember that time and caring people will eventually make things better.

In periods of serenity and calm, we need to appreciate the good in our lives. But exulting with joy and a sense of invincibility because of health and success of our loved ones or when achieving a milestone or good fortune, should be tempered by reality. Just as with sadness, pleasure and celebration are ephemeral, and “this too shall pass.”

In addition to “death and taxes” as life’s inevitabilities, there is another experience you can bet the house on: ”Stuff” will indeed happen in our lives, unexpected changes will occur. Rest assured, however, that after extreme joy or deep sorrow, your life will return to its natural state of normalcy.

As Rudyard Kipling put it beautifully in his poem “If.”

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same…You are a better man than most.”

Downturns are not permanent defeats, and successes are not ultimate triumphs. How we face our setbacks, with resilience, and accept our successes, with grace, are important measures of our worth as individuals.