My life plan came off the rails exactly 44 years ago Thursday. The plan was a good one. Fresh home from a church mission, my time was now my own.
I had squared everything with everyone — the police, the Army and God. It was time to start minding my own business instead of allowing other people to do it for me.
My goal was to see the world. Toward that end, I was waiting for just the right moment to tell my family goodbye again. Then it was off to Galveston, Texas, where a friend offered to help me ship out on the lowest rung of the merchant marine ladder.
See? Great plan. Not only did it suit the nomadic lifestyle I had been raised in as a military brat, I also wouldn’t fall back in with the bad old crowd at home. I would get paid for sailing the seven seas and visiting exotic lands.
I had visions of witnessing great wonders. The Southern Cross, Cape of Good Hope and terrifying ocean creatures. Round the Horn in a gale, climb the pyramids, dig for treasure, maybe even sail past that part of the map that once declared “here, there be dragons.”
So imagine my confusion when, on a warm October day in 1975, I found myself standing on terra incognita outside the Salt Lake Temple, married, and wondering what the hell happened to The Plan?
It was a woman, of course. We served in a district together on our missions. We barely tolerated each other then. I came home just after General Conference. She called and asked if we could meet and catch up on everyone still in the mission.
I figured what the hell? Couldn’t hurt. I’d be gone to Texas in a week.
Turned out not even close. I drove to where she was staying and knocked. She opened the door, and the Spirit screamed unto me, “Oh, $#!#!”
Note: You weren’t there. You don’t know what the Spirit said. If it can encourage us to kill other people in droves, surely it’s capable of saying the occasional bad word.
Anyway, I was stunned. I didn’t have to leave home for the adventure of a lifetime. The most beautiful thing I could possibly ever see was standing right there in the doorway.
We were married six months later and parents 10 months after that, all the while I framed houses in the freezing wind and broiling sun.
My plan to see the world, visit exotic lands, and experience all sorts of exciting things was a bust.
Or so I thought.
Looking back, I can honestly say I made the right voyage. If I had been swabbing decks somewhere in the Mediterranean, I would have missed the life-altering moment of holding my first daughter.
I faced considerable surprises on this unplanned cruise — bills, injuries, strange friends, moments of near death and the breath-catching miracle of a beautiful princess in an old housecoat batting her eyes at me.
There were storms aplenty, even dragons a time or two. You don’t have to travel to the edge of the map to see one. Set off something in the garage that turned out to be bigger than you thought it would be, then wait for the wife to get home.
I have set foot on a dark and strange continent and met previously unknown indigenous people with bizarre customs. Fatherhood. I also discovered treasure: grandkids.
This completely unplanned voyage has been a course-changing experience for me. What I know is that I didn’t miss the boat four decades ago. I just signed on with the right one. And we’re still sailing.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.