Great Expectations

C. S. Lewis once said, “We read to know that we are not alone.”  Once in awhile I read something and know he was right.  I started a book today, and reading the very first paragraph was one of those moments.  I haven’t even read enough of the book to know what it’s really about or if I’ll like it, but these few sentences resonated with me.

So here’s the paragraph:

“It was a long drive and Eve cried most of the way home, because the big day hadn’t gone the way she’d hoped, not that big days ever did.  Birthdays, holidays, weddings, graduations, funerals — they were all too loaded with expectations, and the important people in her life rarely acted the way they were supposed to.  Most of them didn’t even seem to be working from the same script as she was, though maybe that said more about the important people in her life than it did about big days in general.”  (Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta)

Do you find yourself nodding and agreeing?  I know I did.  Although I have to add that it also says more about the false expectations I often have than about the big days in general. 

We have these movie and television, magazine and Norman Rockwell images of holidays that are perfect.  You know the ones.  The whole family – several generations of them – gathered for Thanksgiving, dressed perfectly, every hair in place, make up done, everyone smiling – and Dad is getting ready to carve a great big Thanksgiving turkey.  Or maybe it’s Christmas morning with the whole family gathered around the beautifully decorated and ideally shaped tree as someone is opening the perfect present.  It’s the sunny day family picnic in July, everyone smiling and filling a pew on Easter Sunday, or the lovely hug as a thank you for the best birthday present ever. 

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What you don’t see is the kitchen mess from cooking, the kids shoving and pushing, the person who opens the present you so carefully bought and wrapped saying, “Oh. Thanks.”  You don’t see everyone on their phones, watching the television, or taking off and leaving that mess in the kitchen. 

Sometimes I have a vision of how ordinary days should go when gathered with family or with friends.  And sometimes those days don’t quite go the way I hoped.  When we build up expectations, we just set ourselves up to be disappointed.  If it happened last Monday or this Wednesday, you can be sure it has happened on the big days.   And it will continue to happen.

I allow myself to build up my expectations.  I see those glossy pictures in the magazines, I watch too many Hallmark movies, and I want to be part of the Waltons.  Maybe as summer wanes and we move into fall, I would do well to keep myself away from these unrealistic tableaus and keep my expectations real.  I wonder where all those pretty people and perfect families live…or if there they are indeed just fictional characters I made up.

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