It may seem ironic that in a blog titled What Next? in which I am trying to journal my attempts to live my first year of retirement more spontaneously, I am going to write this post about the importance of planning ahead. In the meditation I gave in church yesterday about being a pilgrim rather than a tourist in life, I talked about how planning ahead can enhance our life journeys and make them occasions for personal growth and learning.
It took a great deal of planning and cutting through endless red tape to arrange a one day visit to a Palestinian refugee camp when I took twenty-four of my Hong Kong high school students to Israel. It was thanks to the helpful MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) workers in Bethlehem that we were able to make the arrangements. When I read the students’ reflections after visiting the camp I knew that every minute spent planning the experience had been worth it.
Learning about our families’ histories before we went to Ukraine made our trip there so much more meaningful. Here is Dave trying to read the German script on my great, great-grandfather Daniel Peters’ tombstone in the former Mennonite colony of Nikolaipol. I would never have even known that Daniel had lived there if I hadn’t prepared for our trip by reading the transcripts of the interviews one of my aunts did with my grandparents.
A few years ago I had to help chaperone a school trip to Spain. The art teacher who was leading the trip gave the students quite a number of pre-trip assignments. I decided to do the assignments too. I learned all about Picasso’s painting Guernica before I saw it at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. Knowing why Picasso had painted this masterpiece and the message he was seeking to convey, made viewing the painting a powerful and moving experience for me.
Phoning Shayli Patrick and arranging to meet her when we visited Australia added a delightful evening to our Sydney sojourn. Shayli was a former student of both Dave’s and mine, who had left her Manitoba home to work for a year as a nanny in Sydney. We were so glad we had contacted her ahead of time to arrange to get together.
Reading the book Eat Pray Love before we went to Bali, allowed my friend Kathy and I to meet Wayan one of the characters in the book and have her make lunch for us at her restaurant. We simply followed the directions in the book and they led us down the right streets in Ubud.
Before I, and two of my colleagues took 24 students to Cambodia in May, we met with the kids at least a half-dozen times. We played get to know you games, ate food together, planned for the service work we would do, talked about rules and the behavior we expected and learned about the history and culture of Cambodia. The relationships established during those pre-trip planning meetings helped make the trip more fun and a breeze to chaperone.
The planning for our trip to Fiji with our friends Alan and Simone and my sister Kaaren and her husband Ken began seven months ahead of time. Making arrangements so far in advance was the only way we could have coordinated all six of our schedules.
Since we knew retirement was looming on our horizon we deliberately booked into bed and breakfasts in New Zealand that were run by retired people. My husband Dave made all the arrangements and his careful planning resulted in us gleaning lots of great advice about how to approach our retirement years.
Before we went on our trip to India we consulted with a number of our teaching colleagues who had traveled to India before. Through them we found Mustaq, the travel agent who arranged our private tour of northern India. He did a great job adding in all the ‘extras’ we wanted like a tiger safari and a tour with street kids in Delhi.
In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell says when on the threshold of a new adventure, we should consult allies like maps, music, artwork, books or people who point us in the right direction. Planning ahead for a trip or for any experience in life can often make that experience richer and more meaningful.