Tuesday, September 20, 2011

And yet more about expectations

I've been thinking about expectations, and how they shape our perception of—well, of everything.

(I touched on expectations here once before. Here I go again.)

We spent a long weekend in Cape May, NJ, and arrived home this past Sunday evening. It was nice to get away, the town was as beautiful as always, we climbed lighthouse steps and rode in a horse-drawn carriage and visited a Civil War village and ate far too much food that someone else had prepared and consequently cleaned up. It was fun.

But the weather mostly stunk. We knew, thanks to internet weather reports, that an unseasonable cold snap was expected, both here and there. We packed jackets, and rain coats, and umbrellas. And we didn't use them the whole time, but we did use them a significant portion of the time. We squeezed in some beach fun, but we also spent time looking longingly, through mist and raindrops and wind, at the nearly inhospitable shore. I fumed a bit on the drive home, felt sorry for myself, composed various blog posts with silly titles such as 'Scuse Me while I Curse the Sky... (I kid you not.)

Yet, the weekend was nice, and relaxing, and trouble-free. Even the rides there and back weren't bad. The newly purchased used car ran like a champ, we saw mountains, and Amish buggies, and rolling hills with barns tucked neatly within. We neatly avoided Philly at rush hour. Whew.

So what was lacking? Not much. Some sunshine, some warmer temperatures, I guess—I was expecting air temps to match the water temps (upper 70s) as they normally do in mid-September. (The water was great; the air, not so.) And there's the problem word: expecting. I was anticipating a certain type of visit, and we didn't have it. So now I feel disenchanted, disappointed, cheated of what should have been a warm, balmy weekend. But why? We're all humans living on this changeable orb. We know, by now, that weather is not a sure thing in any direction. We know that it isn't always sunny at the beach. Yet still, there's this pervasive feeling of discontentment in my gut.

Expectations can get us into trouble emotionally. If I'm learning any lesson consistently and repeatedly, it's that I need to expect less from life. I need to stop expecting good weather, uncomplicated days, and excellent health. I need to stop expecting people to be good, and thoughtful, and unselfish. I need to remember which world I'm currently inhabiting, and start living with more appreciation for the many times when things actually do go well and I ride the wave of relative ease of living. Truly, for most of us these days, life is pretty easy. We have so many gadgets, countless conveniences, comforts, and abundance, that it seems we've lost sight of the harsh reality that there's still so much we can't control.

Like the weather at the beach.

So, I need to turn my foolish little expectations on their heads. Let's see what that looks like:

I'm so glad that a hurricane didn't hit land while we were there! I'm so thankful that our tire didn't fall off en route and roll down a mountainside. I'm so happy that the horse pulling our Cape May carriage was obedient and stopped at the light instead of rolling through the busy intersection or charging a pedestrian. I'm really delighted that Marcus's slight cold didn't turn into a full-fledged illness with fever and chills. I'm very relieved that no one mugged me because this was one of the few times each year when I actually had cash in my purse. I'm thankful that I was blessed enough to have my own great little family to accompany me on this drizzly escapade.

There. That wasn't so hard, was it? No. It wasn't. We aren't perfect. Life isn't perfect. It's good, but not perfect. And that's okay. I can hope for better weather next time, but I need to steer clear of "why, why, woe unto us."

It was fun. And the last positive spin? All that cold wetness made it much easier to depart on the final day. Here's to realistic expectations, and nurturing a grateful heart.


chris h. said...

This is SO timely Mel as we are off to our own beach adventure on Saturday -- our first vacation in 2 years, so yeah, expectations are running high. Thanks for the reminder to just let things be and be grateful anyway. What's the old adage...any day you're not at work...

Cari Skuse said...

I have to totally agree with this post! I have been having the same problem with expectations of what other people should do and it gets me into trouble every time. The problem I have, though, is what I should set my expectations. Should I just set them high for myself and just not expect anything from others? As usual, I always enjoy reading your posts Mel! And I read every one of them. :)

Mel said...

Chris--wishing you better weather than we had, but a lovely time and thankful heart nevertheless. And Cari, thank you for your reader loyalty! I wish I had an answer for your question... how high is the bar, and how many bars should there be? I wish I knew. I think you're on the right track, though--higher than we'd like for ourselves, lower than we'd like for everyone else.