The Game Plan


What’s it all about?  Life, I mean.  Is it micro or is it macro?  Take, for example, the death of my fiancé, Bob Dobrow, in 1974.  Was that because something like an O-ring broke, or because of some master game plan that said he had to go?

Bob was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps.  He was on a routine training flight when his plane crashed.  Bob ejected but his parachute didn’t open.  What are the odds of a plane crashing and a parachute failing at the same time?  Was this an accident or did God have to take two shots to get Bob out?  The Marine Corps never told me the results, but they for sure investigated the hell out of the situation that killed a man they’d spent millions of dollars to train, not to mention costing them a very expensive plane.

In one reported instance, a pilot died because he was flying with the chin strap loosened on his helmet.  When the plane got into trouble and he had to exit it, the loose chin strap enabled his head to snap back so hard and so far that it broke his neck.  Whether or not the parachute deployed thereafter was immaterial.  Does life and death come down to this—a loose chin strap?  What’s the big picture?

Bob and I had been together for two years but he’d never invited me to visit him on base.  We were living two thousand miles apart because Bob’s first wife, who had been his sweetheart since high school, decided that she didn’t like flying, the Marine Corps, or the Deep South, which is where most Marine air bases are located.  She left him, and I finally figured out that Bob couldn’t invite me to visit him on base for fear I’d feel the same way and also leave him.

It was 1974 and a woman wasn’t supposed to chase a man; she was supposed to sit quietly and wait for him to call.  But if my man couldn’t call, then what was I supposed to do?  A man is a romantic hero if he goes after his woman.  Born to be equal, I wrote to Bob to tell him that I would be joining him on base as soon as I could make arrangements.

Two days later he died and my letter was returned unclaimed.  He died without knowing I was coming.  Had he known, would it have made a difference?  Did Bob die because there was some master game plan in which it was important that he and I not get together?  He was my soul mate; whatever souls are made of, his and mine were the same.  We knew it within three days of meeting.  What would our lives have been like if Bob had lived?  He was going into the astronaut training program.  He was born to be a hero, and I to be his wife.  He would have been a great dad and we would have had wonderful children.

Instead, Bob died and I went on antidepressants.  Was that my choice or part of the master game plan?  I did not belong to a faith community.  I went to see a rabbi (Bob was Jewish) and I went to see my parent’s pastor.  They both basically blew me off.  I went to see a doctor and he gave me antidepressants and told me to keep coming back.  I have long believed that this was one of the two biggest mistakes of my life.  The cure for death is developing a mature spirituality.  I didn’t do it.  I made a choice, and my choice was to turn my back on the one true God and put my faith in a lot of little demi-gods and their bottles of pills.

I really, really don’t believe that doctors and drugs was God’s plan.  He is a God of love and he doesn’t treat his people that way.  I didn’t know that then but I’m sure of it now.

In 1999, I overdosed on those drugs and spent a month on life support with no expectation of survival.  According to doctors, there was no human way that I could survive, but I did.  Shall we credit that to my fighting spirit, the doctors’ management of my treatment, or the will of God?  The doctors had given up, and I’m going with the God explanation on this one.  When all systems have crashed and you’ve spent a month living on a machine plugged into a wall socket, you don’t come out of the ICU alive without it being God’s intention.  Maybe.

A doctor did permanent damage to my kidneys because she didn’t monitor the medicine she was prescribing.  After the fact, I talked to her three times to try to get her to face what she’d done to me and was continuing to do to others.  She wouldn’t accept responsibility.  Then she died—unexpectedly, home alone, on my birthday.  With 365 days to choose from, why’d she die on my birthday?  I do not believe for one instant that she died because of what she did to me.  Maybe, according to the master’s plan, she had to die to stop her from hurting somebody else, or maybe her account had been balanced and the debit level was too high to support continued life—I don’t know.  But I gotta believe that the timing of her death was God’s message to me that he’s got my back.

So it’s zero-dark-thirty (that’s Marine-pilot-talk for “before dawn”) on a cold Syracuse morning, and I wake up wondering what it’s all about?  Was there a master game plan?  If there was, was it put in place before I was born, or made up along the way?  Is life an interactive expedition with God?  And after sixty-five years of living, have I figured out the plan?

And what comes next?

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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