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J. C. Leyendecker: A boy holding a sword labeled "Be Prepared." Another person wearing a flag holds a shield behind the boy. The poster advertises USA Bonds and the Third Liberty Loan Campaign by the Boy Scouts of America. Liberty Loans and Liberty Bonds were used by the US Government to fund World War I. (1917)

" … they found that there was probably no adequate replacement for a sincere lack of preparation."

Despite a century of exhorting people to Be Prepared, The Boy Scouts, whether or not they survive as an organization, will be remembered as having been wholly unprepared to face the scandal that laid them low. They might have just as usefully insisted that people should Be Prepared To Feel Unprepared, since BeingPrepared most often amounts to simply acknowledging that one can never be adequately prepared. Build that Maginot Line only to later find that it defended against a past threat rather than a present one. The careful, almost ruinous preparations became more encumbrance than asset in the moment that mattered. I won't argue against preparation, just against over-relying upon preparation as an iron-clad defense, especially when iron cladding limits mobility to respond to the unanticipated. The German's Zeigfried Line defended no better than the Maginot did for the French. The ruins of both still stand as silent testaments to the paradox not even The Boy Scouts could avoid. Preparation might well prove necessary but only rarely sufficient. Some undeterminable portion of defensive energy might be better focused upon mobility in some utterly unforeseeable future moment.

Our best laid plans have been starting to show their vulnerabilities.
We, like everyone before us, presumed certain conditions would be present which ended up being absent in the moments they might have mattered. We imagined resources which proved inaccessible when we needed them. Contractors have no time available. Advisors, busy advising others, might be able to squeeze us in later in the Fall. We hit the ground here ready to run and felt unprepared to crawl. What just seemed reasonable before we arrived now seems unattainable. We're feeling stymied. Further, it seems as though our decade of dreaming left important questions hanging. We aspired to repaint every interior surface without seriously considering the color scheme, which seemed a trivial question until it came time to choose. It's not a forever decision, but it seems as though it might as well have been. The night before the painter's finally free to start working, we're still juggling paint samples and that designer we'd earlier imagined would be waiting for our call can't consult with us until four or five months from now. We might have been unprepared to be our own designer, but we're our own designer now.

The aspiration to know for sure about the future might be an innate feature of human existence. We'd like to know. We might even believe that we need to know, that we absolutely
must know beforehand in order to succeed, though history offers few examples where this notion held true. Actions large and small might be better characterized as having been cobbled together rather than "properly" planned and executed, even when properly planned and duly executed. Proper counts little, it seems. Something else reigns more supreme than BeingPrepared in a world where preparedness holds little practical meaning. I was never properly prepared to be a husband, father, or writer, but I became each in turn. I have been serially unprepared for HomeMaking and all it seems to entail. Preparation turned out to not be a precondition for success, but more a notion I most often had to first get over to find success. The same held true through all the many projects I managed and consulted with. Preparation proved neither necessary nor sufficient, but sometimes helpful, other times, less so. Justifying present outlay to satisfy possible future conditions was always a dicey proposition, easily deferred and only later regretted. It might be that we're only ever approaching the best we can become once we're over-extended and recovering. BeingPrepared for another humbling might prove the most useful preparation of all.

Fortunately, Synchronicity visits. It might prove most useful whether HomeMaking or Boy Scouting, to foster accepting that they way things turn out was the way they were supposed to be, whether the result of painstaking planning or unfortunate accident. I won't argue in favor of cynical resignation to the will of The Gods, but I will encourage optimistic hopefulness. No project worth doing has ever experienced seamless execution, and many projects manage to produce perfectly acceptable results, if almost never pure perfection. One might be tempted to insist that notions of the necessity of perfection serve as their own greatest encumbrance, like the BeingPrepared Paradox, useful only to the extent that one can somehow manage to get over it. High ideals might fuel initial engagement, but lower passions power completions. Whatever color we choose to paint the Villa's interior will most certainly appear to be a dramatic improvement over the ragged remains already here when we started. We will notice the imperfections more than any visitor, but we're well experienced with living with such disappointment and even reveling in it.

I remember when I sat for my SAT, a preliminary exam the results of which were once believed to predict success in college. They didn't. I didn't prepare at all, but showed up in that vast hall ready only to get beyond it. I found within the exam a raft of questions I'd never before imagined. Notations I could not interpret. Instructions that made no sense. I recognized the experience as a familiar one, and selected my forced choices without remorse. I never checked back to see how I'd done. I'd survived the ordeal, which seemed enough. The result proved adequate for my purposes when, seven years later, I enrolled in a university that didn't subscribe to preparatory test results as in any way predictive, like an increasing number of institutions now acknowledge. SATs maybe could have proven more useful had they not been co-opted by those who came prepared, who crammed so as to appear as though they already understood. What utility could that strategy have ever produced in this world as we know it? Once colleges started assessing, they found that there was probably no adequate replacement for a sincere lack of preparation.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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