Gratitude and Expectations

So, a short list of things I once wanted in my life: a healthy child, someone who loved me and I loved, a published novel, a nice place to live, world peace, my father to get out of his depression, my sister to stop hating me, wonderful friends, enough money to live on. I have three published novels, an awesome seventeen-year old, a wonderful husband, a beautiful condominium, fabulous friends and enough money to live on. But my father is still depressed, we are still at war and my sister still hates me.

As Thanksgiving approaches I feel sad and like a failure. I know it isn't my fault this country continues to pour money into weapons of mass destruction or that my father feels life as such a burden. I don't think I deserve my sister's hatred. Nothing good seems to outweigh the bad. When I was learning to be a teacher I was warned that when I had a student who consistently misbehaved, I needed to remember that the other 99% deserved my attention and not let that one individual hold us hostage. This was excellent advice but very difficult to follow. That one angry malcontent, that glowering, eye-rolling, snarky kid seemed to require all of my teaching skill.

The dark side has always shadowed the light. In Paradise Lost, Satan could not be more fascinating while God is just a bore. Who prefers Betty to Veronica, Beth to Amy, Paul to John or Taylor what's her face to Amy Winehouse or Courtney Love?  We focus on the negative, the gloomy and the deranged because if we pay attention to these things we won't put undue attention on things we value and risk losing them. Love and attachment, happiness and achievement bring the possibility of loss, sadness and defeat closer. Of course, this is a false syllogism-A) Valuable things are sometimes lost, b) losing things causes pain. c) Valuing things causes pains. But that's not true. Or if it is true, so what? Isn't it better to have been somewhere amazing even if years later it has been sacrificed to urban sprawl? Loving an animal is probably inviting some pain because they rarely outlive us. But would you avoid the delight of a kitty belly, a purr in your face, a snuggle with a furry thing just to avoid missing them?

And what about expectations? Hmm. I think Dickens had it right in Great Expectations when he doomed Miss Havisham to her bitter bridal finery and fiery death. Pip is nearly destroyed by his expectations which are mostly class related. I grew up with many rich kids paralyzed by their assumptions about inheriting wealth. One wonderful friend succumbed to drug addiction and an early death because she never learned her own value apart from money. My own experience has been less dramatic but consistent. As a kid I expected there to be something wonderful nearly every day until something happened and I went into a deep depression that caused me to see life as bleak and pointless. After recovering and finding balance, I still have the tendency to hope too much.

Take my sister for example. My husband compares her to Lucy with the football and me as Charlie Brown rushing forward full of hope when the truth is, she has no intention of letting him have that moment. It's hopeless with us and if I accept that I may be pleasantly surprised. Low expectations, high rewards someone once said. Buddhism teaches that attachment is the source of all pain and as I grow older I see how true that is. if we stay attached to how we once looked we will become discontent as we age. Our society seems to feel that anything that speaks of maturity is despicable, that age has no benefits which is sad and wrong.

I resolve to be truly thankful this holiday and start noticing how many things are good as opposed to feeling discontent and uneasy. I will hug my kitties, kiss my son and husband, eat good things and celebrate the sweetness no matter how fleeting.


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