It has been twenty years now since I graduated from college but I still have the same horrible dream. It’s finals week and I suddenly realize that I’ve forgotten one of my classes. In fact, I never attended a single lecture or read a single assigned text. I find myself stepping into the exam room as innocent of preparation as it is possible to be. The professor raises an eyebrow and the other students laugh at me. I begin to feel sick to my stomach. But mercifully this is where the dream ends.
I wonder sometimes if newborns feel the same sort of anxiety. Life would seem to defy preparation. Years ago, when my wife was pregnant with my now twelve-year-old son, I liked to imagine him seated in the womb on a comfortable chair, surrounded by tall bookshelves. A faint light shone around him as he carefully underlined passages in a worn volume titled How to Be Human. In my imagination I tried to lean over his shoulder and read some of the book for myself, but the text blurred impossibly. I couldn’t make out a thing.
Most everything worthwhile in my life I have stepped into ill-prepared. I married at age twenty-five with no idea what I was doing. And yet marrying my wife was the best thing I ever did. Similarly, nothing I read or heard about being a father helped me in any way to be a father. It’s not that preparation is always bad, but some things really cannot be prepared for. In such cases I find that the less I chase after the delusion of preparedness, the greater my capacity for gratitude in the face of actual events.