I am so punctually challenged and chronically tardy that the only event I ever showed up to early was my own birth. (No really, I was two weeks early, and it kills me that I can’t take any credit for it.) I don’t know if lateness is genetic or learned, but it afflicts every one of my family members, and I married into it as well. (I don’t think my husband handed in a single paper on time in his entire undergrad or graduate career.)
My basic problem is twofold: I consistently underestimate how long it takes to get ready and how long it takes to travel. I never factor in traffic or walking to or from my car. And in the rare instance that I’m ahead of schedule, I immediately slow down my pace (because I know I have extra time) which sends me straight back to lateville. Worst of all, although I am intellectually aware that I have serious time management issues, every time I need to get somewhere by a certain time (which is basically every day) I delusionally believe that the same actions will somehow yield different results.
On the bright side, I’ve developed some tricks over the years if I really, really need to be on time. (See – yet another symptom of my condition – I generally view time as a suggestion rather than deadline.) Trick number one: WWTL (When Would Tammy Leave?) My friend Tammy is as notoriously early as I am late, and although I know her secret, I am unable to replicate it. She has this innate grasp of how long it takes to get somewhere or do something even if she’s never done it before unlike me who doesn’t have a clue how long anything takes to do even if I’ve done it over and over again. So when punctuality is essential I have to ask myself (and Tammy) WWTL?
Trick number two – plan to make multiple stops and then cancel all unnecessary stops at the last minute. This can never be planned for since, as I said, I never actually believe I’m going to be late (until it’s too, well, late), but the only way I am capable of being somewhere on time (without Tammy’s help) is if I plan to do something less important before my main stop, and then once I’m already on the road, behind schedule as usual, I skip the unnecessary stop and head straight to the important one.
Which is exactly how we got to the airport on time a few weeks ago. We were going away for Shavuos, to visit some friends in Virginia. My husband and I were scheduled to speak as the scholars in residence during the holiday. I wanted to stop by our local kosher bakery to get our friends a “thank you for hosting us” gift, but by the time we got down to the car and packed everyone into it, it was clear that we had no choice but to head straight to the airport. So we did and we managed to make excellent time. I started unloading the children and bags as my husband ran inside to print out our tickets. Everything was going so smoothly – too smoothly. And then my husband called my cell phone to explain that our tickets weren’t printing for some reason. As I waited on hold for him to get help, a sense of foreboding overcame me. Then I heard the words “next month, sir.”
Apparently my husband had managed to book our tickets for June instead of May, and the only way to change them was to spend an additional $800 (on top of the $500 we had already spent). And there wasn’t even a return flight when we needed it. Now in my husband’s defense, he had been working very hard and sleeping very little for several weeks before he bought the tickets, and we had only decided to fly because he needed to be back for even more work on the Sunday after the holiday (poor guy).
But suddenly we were out $500 and left with no choice but to drive for 7 hours during the day with 2 small children and a baby. (We would have planned to drive while the kids were sleeping had we known that flying wasn’t an option.) We were also faced now with driving through the night on Saturday – another dreadful ordeal.
I won’t lie, my first thought was one of self-pity. “Why did this have to happen to us?” I wondered as I began punching V-I-R-G-I-N-I-A into the GPS. “Our kids don’t do well on short car rides. Watching them all day on Sunday by myself after having driven through the night on Saturday will be torture. And throwing $500 down the drain? I mean, how many better things could I have done with that money?”
After a brief ride on the pity-train, I was done feeling sorry for myself, so I stepped off and remembered two things. Number one, tzuros (pain, unpleasantness) is unavoidable in life. Everyone gets his share. Better to get it in small, annoying doses than in big, serious, life-altering ones. And number two: ultimately we don’t get to call the shots in life.
For whatever reason, we were meant to be couped up in a car for seven hours as our kids fought, our baby cried, and our 3-year-old repeated over and over again, “HOW…MANY…MO’…MINUTES?!” (She tawks like a New Yoykah sometimes.) We were meant to drive and drive despite our exhaustion on Saturday night, sleep a few hours in a nasty motel, and then get stuck in horrible traffic trying to enter the city on Sunday morning. We were also meant to not have that $500.
People love to delude themselves into believing that life will go according to their plans because they are in charge. Indeed, I spent most of my childhood dreaming of the day when I’d grow up and get to say things like, “because I said so!” But even as adults, most things are not up to us. We are required to make good decisions about the things that we can control, like our behavior and actions, but everything else is basically out of our hands and we have to learn to let go. The Talmud describes this concept with the maxim “kol bidey shamayim chutz m’yiras shamayim,” which conceptually means everything is controlled from Above except for the choices we make.
Which brings me back to this whole lateness issue….am I choosing to do it or am I just an unfortunate soul who is victimized by external factors beyond my control? In other words, next time I’m late picking up my kids from school, can I just blame it God’s greater plan?