Any minute now, my sister will be arriving to spend the night. Any minute. I’ve been telling myself this for an hour or so now. Still, no Annie.
Why is it that the things we so eagerly anticipate are the things that seem to take the longest to arrive?
This feeling is so common to the human experience, that we have aphorisms and proverbs that speak to it. The idiom in English is: a watched pot never boils. Before telephones were mobile, and came with us everywhere, my mother used to tell me not to just sit there waiting for the phone to ring – that the surest way for the call to come through was to get busy doing something productive. I can remember many times throughout my life when the anticipation seemed endless, almost unbearable. Who could stand to wait for Christmas, or summer vacation, or your birthday?
Funny how often this kind of eager anticipation is followed by an emotional letdown. Graduated from college? Hooray…now what? Christmas is finally here? Yippee…I didn’t get what I wanted. The New Year’s Eve party, trip to Vegas, prom…not really as much fun as the emotional hype leading up to them.
Here’s something I’ve noticed recently. The ratio of events I’m eagerly anticipating to events that meet or surpass my expectations is getting better. Compared with my expectations, the following events surpassed anything I anticipated: my reunions with various old friends this past year = more meaningful and loving; The Oprah Tribute Show = better and more emotionally touching; time with my sister Anne = more fun and relaxed than a quick visit should be. And each hard fought pound dropped = more internal satisfaction than I ever expected to feel this far into my weight loss odyssey. (It took Odyssius ten years to make his way home from Troy, so I think odyssey is an appropriate word choice here!)
What I find myself wondering is whether I have learned to manage the anticipation, and keep it to a reasonable level OR if, instead, I have matured into a better understanding of the right life experiences to anticipate? Recently, I asked a friend if he felt let down after a series of big events in his life concluded. His response, “No letdown. I don’t get letdowns too easy. I’m very content…” struck me as a little too sanguine at the time. But the more I think about it, the more I come to believe he’s onto something. For me, it is less about being content than it is about living fully in the moment that comes – whatever it holds, no matter the advance hype. The good or great times can be fully enjoyed for what they are. And the other moments, even the difficult ones, can then be taken in stride without losing equilibrium. Being content isn’t about experiencing flat emotions (as my younger self suspected) – it is more about aligning oneself with the big picture of one’s life, instead of the momentary frame.
In her song, “Anticipation”, made famous by its use in the Heinz Ketchup commercials, Carly Simon writes about anticipation getting in the way of living her life right now – she’s late to meet her lover because she’s thinking about what might be. By the end of the song, she arrives at this conclusion: “So I’ll try and see into your eyes right now/And stay right here ’cause these are the good old days.” We could all choose worse credos to live by.