The Plans We Unmake

Yo-Yo Ma’s friend Gert was sick.

The musician went to the hospital with his cello and played her a Bach suite. And he brought a flask of good Scotch for her husband, Leon.

Sometime later, Mr. Ma came again to the hospital with his cello. Gert wasn’t doing well, but she had been craving pickles. Leon told Gert that Mr. Ma had arrived. Do you want to hear Yo-Yo or have pickles? Leon asked her. Gert chose pickles.

Then – as Leon would later share with Harvard Magazine – the world’s best cello player left his cello at the hospital and returned 30 minutes later with six different jars of pickles.

I like pickles. I also like plans. They are wonderful, helpful things that give form and purpose to our time. They are an expression of how we want to use our days.

But sometimes our days want to be used elsewhere. And no matter how hard we worked on our plans, they are always tentative. Because we are called to respond to life as it is, not as we thought it would or should be.

While I aim to live in the moment, it’s not second nature for me to discard plans. I like their parameters and sensibility. And I have strong-armed my way through a plan, while the world happened elsewhere.

In these moments, I forget that my plan might be more beautiful, more sensible, but that’s not where life is.

The unplanned can pull us up and out of ourselves. Out into the intensity of an unexpected moment. Out beyond what we could plan for.

And if we are ready, if we are open, we will get the pickles.

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