Thursday, November 19, 2009

What You Get When You're Expecting...

Expectations are a dangerous thing in that they mostly require action not from oneself but from an uncontrollable Other. Or, worse, a group of Others. Good luck, I say. I say it many times a day to many people, often in the form of a gold star and, most of all, to myself. It is hard work to give up expecting that someone other than yourself might be able to fill whatever hole you have and, at the same time, hold on to the hope that must accompany forging any relationship, lasting or brief.

The other day, a friend of mine working at a local cafe was in a funk, ready to go home just an hour or two in to a five-hour shift. Bummer. Her spirits were deeply dampened. She had shown me, days earlier, an amazing hand-drawn book she had created to give to a new friend with whom she had shared a special time. The book depicted the two of them connecting. It was beautiful.

"How did your friend like the book?" I asked.

She scoffed. "Fine, I guess. I made another one, for another friend. I don't know why I'm so nice to people...they don't deserve it," she said.

I laughed. "Obviously, you didn't get the reaction you wanted or expected," I said.

"Never," she said.

I couldn't help myself. The therapist just under the surface surfaced.

"Ok," I said. "Now, wait. What's your sign?" I don't know why I asked, I know little about all but a few signs, my own and a few of the people I find myself drawn to. She was a Sagittarius. I had nothing for that, but no matter. I knew from her disappointment some of her defining characteristics.

"Look, you obviously give because you like to. My guess is that you find people again and again who take from you and disappoint you..."

She stared up, thinking, then looked right at me. "You're right," she said. "I always find myself around selfish bastards."

"Exactly," I said, "that's what works for you, for some reason. So get over love making the books, you love giving them. My guess is you wouldn't know what to do with someone who responded the way you say you want someone to anyway."

She laughed. "You're right."

Aah, my favorite words. I gave her a gold star for pondering deeper, looking a little at what her role in a disappointing situation might be. It is, after all, the only role she can control.

Yesterday, I had a similar conversation with a friend whose family is coming apart at the seams. She sighed deeply as she went to sign off on a long conversation about what people were and were not capable of giving.

"It's fine," she said, "I'm done expecting things from people..."

I laughed. The tone in her voice, the deep disappointment, gave her away. She was lying.

"That was half-hearted at best," I said. "But, you know what? You do have to make your peace with the fact that people only can do what they can do..."

"I'm trying," she said, pausing a moment before adding, "I need a gold star!"

I need to put a star on my cell phone, to text them to people in those moments. I did it once for my husband and it was surprisingly effective. I needed one then. I gave her one, verbally. Would that it helped...

It is amazing how many times a day, how many times a week, people shake their head and say, "I'm trying," or even, "It hardly seems worth it to try..."

So often it is in conjunction with what they are doing not being appreciated by others, what others are not doing.

This morning, for example, at Parco, I ran into a great lady, a professor of psychology, headed to work. She has three classes to teach today.

"Yikes," I said, "so are your students enraptured by your lectures?"

She rolled her eyes. "Right. It's a horrible year."

"Oh no!" I said, looking at her with sympathy, "I'm so sorry!"

She met my eyes with her own, filled with gratitude. "Thank you," she said. She needed a little sympathy. Her students are more on the remedial end and, she said, "With the economy being what it is, a lot of people just decide to go to school 'cause..."

Here she trailed off but I nodded in understanding. I've thought a lot lately about the gamble of higher education, the question of whether the investment is sound. The jury is still out. Like with so many things.

"College is like marriage," I said, "very hopeful..."

She laughed and thought about it. "I guess it is..." she said.

"The problem is, though, with both, you only get out what you put in. You can't expect that it's just going to work out because you're in it, you can't expect anybody else to do all the work."

"Exactly," she said. She gratefully accepted her gold star and asked, hopefully, if she was going to be featured on the blog. As this was her expectation, clearly stated, and as her issue was part of a universal one I had been contemplating, I didn't want to disappoint. I didn't want to add to her burden of unfulfilled expectations. That is never my plan.

As I sat in yoga a little while later, though, a message the instructor gave us from a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye called "Kindness" rang true in my ears, explained a lot about the signifigance and necessity of disappointment. It explained how the emotion it brings is a driving force behind our own positive efforts.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Finding our way to our own kindness, regardless of how it is received, is what, in the end, will save the day, for us. I'm nearly sure of it.

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