It's been said if you want to make God chuckle, tell him your plans.
For not only are we humans unable to add one inch to our stature, we have no idea where we'll be 20 minutes from now.
The detours life tosses at us can cause whiplash.
Michael Ballam, the singer, describes it as boarding a plane bound for Holland, only to learn we've touched down in Italy. But that's not all bad, he says. Italy is nice. In fact, Italy just may be the place we actually need to be.
I thought of Ballam's comment recently in La Paz, Bolivia. It was my last night in town and I'd decided to attend the premiere of a play called "The Sinner." Before heading out, I made sure I had everything in total control. Nothing could go wrong.
Then I hailed a cab and told the driver the name of the hall.
It would be the last moment of sanity for the next three hours.
Apparently the cabby knew of only one performance hall, so he took me there. People were lined up, vendors bustled about. As I paid the cab, a woman offered me her ticket at half price. I jumped at it, paid her, and headed through the doors.
It didn't take long for me to figure out I was sitting on the front row of a symphony concert.
Undaunted, I left, got the general direction of the theater I really wanted and headed out. I walked in that general direction for eight blocks. Finally, I stopped two locals and asked for help.
"I'm looking for the play, 'The Sinner,' " I said.
"Seems like it's in a church," one of them said. The other one smirked.
"Seems like it's in a church," he said, mimicking the first guy. "The theater is right over there."
And it was.
I crossed the street, dashed up the stairs and knocked on the stage door. A man answered. I knew I was at a theater because he was in full costume. He was dressed like Eleanor Roosevelt.
"I'm looking for 'The Sinner,' " I said.
The guy just stared at me.
Finally, some kid with a script came to the door.
"The Sinner"? he said. "That's at a cafe just up the block."
So off I dashed to the cafe, where I was greeted by an empty stage and 75 empty seats.
"The play's been canceled," the janitor said. "Didn't you get the word?"
My first impulse was to say, "Of course I got the word. That's why I'm here." But my better self won out. I thanked him and I headed back into the street.
That's when I felt the symphony ticket in my pocket. With some hustle, I could still catch the second half of the concert.
And that's what I did. It was a Beethoven piano concerto. And the performance was one of the most inspirational moments of my trip.
I'd started out for Holland and ended up in Italy. And Italy, it turns out, was the place I really needed to be.
Looking back at that night, I think of John Bunyan's novel "The Pilgrim's Progress." Bunyan uses the word "progress," but his hero — Christian — hardly ever moves forward. He gets lost in the "Slough of Despair," stops at "Vanity Fair." But perhaps that is the true model for spiritual progress. We backslide, we sidestep. We make false starts and wrong turns. But, if we're fortunate, in the end, we never do get where we're headed.
We end up where we need to be.