Every once in a while we see a book that is a little off the beaten track that deserves some recognition. Meet Mary Farr, a very interesting lady with a great message.
Several years ago I held a retreat at the Gunflint Lodge in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. This remote and enchanting sanctuary in the Superior National Forest struck me as the perfect setting for a group of twelve women to look at their life paths with an eye toward the future and an appetite for fun. We began the day with my single question:
“How many of you are living your Plan A?” Nobody raised her hand.
So it seems that life offers us plenty of opportunities. It also tests us with setbacks, dead ends, hellos and good-byes. Relationships ebb and flow. Jobs begin and end. Responsibilities mount. Fears emerge. Sickness and losses arise. Most of us find ourselves steering our little ships from one safe harbor to another, searching for continuity and meaning, while scrambling to set our sails for the new leg of the journey. Occasionally, however, we get stuck.
The Promise in Plan B is grounded in the reality that life tends to be a series of interruptions, and we each possess a wealth of resources to initiate, investigate, and recreate the way we travel through our shifting courses. Unlike predictable job skills, these resources emphasize resilience, courage, imagination, humor, curiosity, and more. Yet it’s no small irony that many of our most precious strengths get cast aside in a value system that venerates productivity and achievement. In fact, it’s these unsung gifts that hold the real power to enhance the quality of our lives and the ease with which we move from one chapter to the next.
The Temptation to Resist Change
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them—that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
I’m convinced that few of us actually choose to change much. Instead, we tend to resist moving with the flow until all else fails. Rarely do we resist, like a woman I knew who simply said no to the altered life that stood before her when her husband died. Instead, she retreated to an empty farmhouse on a remote hilltop. At age ninety-four she had no intention of changing anything, including her cloistered lifestyle. Living with other people would have required more adjustments than she was willing to make. She chose isolation.
I met Florence Sedgwick in the hills of western Wisconsin. Over the decades following her husband’s death, she had withdrawn from her small farming community. Only an occasional bit of gossip reminded local residents that she ever lived there. Jason Bauer in the Mondovi Co-Op Equity claimed she buried a fortune under her hay shed. A butcher from Bob’s IGA insisted that she was once committed to a mental institution. A World War II veteran in the local nursing home insisted that she set fire to a bunkhouse up the valley on the Werlein farm, a fire that killed her supposedly philandering husband. Nevertheless, after years of speculation, nobody really knew much about Florence, or Flossie, as she chose to be called. All this struck me as curious, because the unpainted fortress she called home was only a few miles from town and within riding distance of the place where I kept my horse Dixie. Every time we rode through the hills, I wondered.
Flossie’s story was both troubling and seductive. I saw something deliciously alluring about the idea of vanishing, of casting off the complicated relationships, damage, and responsibilities that sapped me of energy. That trip back to the drawing board to plot a new course for my children and myself had often felt daunting. Yet as she told her story, it was evident that Flossie bore the burden of estrangement and sadness that accompany a choice to retreat. Though she spoke with enthusiasm about her life on the forty, she clearly longed for human contact. And so it happened that Flossie Sedgwick and I became unexpected friends.
Make Time for Community
Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.
—Anthony J. D’Angelo
A physiologist whose research focused on the human heart once offered me a provocative piece of information: “When you place cells from two separate hearts into a single incubating medium, they begin to communicate with one another.”
It seems that certain proteins in heart-cell membranes enable the cells to communicate with one another. Unlike other body cells, those that make up the human heart can transfer electrical energy from cell to cell. Once placed in a petri dish, the faster-beating cells tell the slower-beating cells to speed up until, eventually, the two kinds beat in unison, as one. Compelling evidence that at the very center of our beings, we humans are quite literally connected. So after all the science and technology has been applied, and all the quality assurance metrics benchmarks have been met, our mission in life comes down to just one thing—we simply cannot fail when we choose to connect with and care for one another. And caring for one another requires building and maintaining meaningful bonds through community. This lesson came early in my professional life, about the time I was unceremoniously dismissed from what I once thought was an important job.
Betsy O’Reilly—The Resourceful Planner
Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.
—Paul J. Meyer
A friend and I once facilitated a retreat titled “Healing of Memories.” During the course of three days, everyone engaged in a variety of group and individual exercises, including storytelling. No surprise, the stories covered an array of harrowing topics that ranged from abuse and alcoholism to divorce and bankruptcy. At the end of the second day, the group came together for a glass of wine and an informal discussion, during which we encouraged questions and comments about the program content. After fielding a handful of remarks, I noticed an older woman named Iris sitting by herself. She wore a rather pensive expression, causing me to wonder if she might have something to say.
“Tell me, Iris, was there anything about the first two days that that resonated with your experience?” I asked.
She seemed uncomfortable with the question and took a moment to think before answering.
“Well, truthfully, I feel a little embarrassed,” she finally replied. “I’m afraid I have nothing very dramatic or painful to add to what I’ve heard so far. My life has been blessedly calm and pretty predictable.” The Promise in Plan B
Her comments served as a good reminder that a Plan B can be blessedly calm and pretty predictable. In fact, frequently a Plan A doesn’t implode but simply runs out of steam. Other times, a natural course of events, such as aging or a move to a different state or country, precipitates creation of a new blueprint. In any case, changing direction does not require a catastrophe. We assured Iris that her calm and predictable situation qualified as both gift and asset.
Consider This: Nothing Beats a Solid Plan
One look at the daily newspaper or TV news would suggest that chaos surrounds us and mapping an even path to the future is impossible. Not true! Creating a Plan B often begins with clear thinking and steady preparation. Betsy O’Reilly provides a fine example of a great outcome that began with a great idea and a solid plan to back it up.
A move to a new home, a new job, or a new adventure prompted by children leaving for college provides the perfect occasion for us to organize our thoughts before taking a next step. Changing direction does not require pain or crisis. It might, however, require shifting our perceptions to see the hidden opportunities ahead.
Think of a time when you found yourself making a plan that was not driven by a setback or emergency. Describe the gifts or assets you brought to the planning table.
What previously undiscovered or untested talents came to light during this process?
Mary Farr, a retired pediatric hospital chaplain, teacher, and motivational speaker has devoted more than 30 years to exploring the worlds of hope, healing and humor. Today she has infused these life essentials into her writing, including her wildly funny and gently inspirational book Never Say Neigh. Her capacity to light up audiences with laughter inspires kindness and concern for one another.
Mary has published five books including the critically acclaimed If I Could Mend Your Heart and Peace: Intersections Small Group Series. The Promise in Plan B explores themes of grace and gratitude seasoned with a generous dose of wit.
Mary has been featured in numerous publications, conferences and radio programs and has inspired audiences including women’s leadership groups, the Hazelden Foundation, integrative medicine conferences and grief and loss seminars. Through her work, she seeks to shine a light that enables others to discover new meaning and richness within their life journeys.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Mary completed her divinity studies in the Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire, Wisconsin where she was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 1983. She received a Master of Arts degree from St. Catherine University in her hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota.