“There’s hours of time on the telephone line
To talk about things to come
Sweet dreams and flying machines
In pieces on the ground
Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again.”- James Taylor
Hindsight is 20/20, they say. Whoever they are. This realization is all at once brilliant and brutal. We are given the blessing to see our ups and downs with the clarity necessary to learn from them, yet we curse ourselves in the same moment for some (in)decision; we regret some risk taken or some hope left alone. It is a bit maddening to try to look back at our past experiences, in particular because we are expected to do so while that same life continues to send us hurtling forward at breakneck speed.
When I hazard a look, I cannot help but be surprised by my life and its landscape: its hills and valleys come as a surprise to me, even after moving over and through them.
I never expected to leave my parents’ house at 17- or to return to it at 23.
I never expected to dye my hair brown and opt to keep it that way.
I never expected that the person I would want to marry would never want to marry anyone, myself included.
Some things I never expected to start, others I never thought I would leave unfinished.
The irony of my life is that I cannot use past circumstances to plan for future ones, because each circumstance is itself an anomaly. The only way I could prepare myself for one outcome would be to plan for the opposite: to expect the unexpected, if you fancy a cliche.
I spoke to two friends last night- one, a girlfriend with whom I have passed many hours; the other an acquaintance, a bartender who reads Frankl. From each of these very different, fascinating people I gleaned the same lesson. I can never live up to my own expectations of what life will be like: not because I am inept. But because the only way a girl would find herself wholly satisfied and wholly within her expectations is if each and every one of the circumstances in question lay entirely within her control.
That is not going to happen, is it, duckie?
Bleak as that may seem at first glance, worry not. This is not cause to lock yourself in your room with a bottle of Merlot and the Damien Rice catalog. What I’m getting at is this: most things are, in point of fact, beyond our control, with one exception: our own behavior. I admit that thought is a bit terrifying. But if my behavior is the only thing I can control, then I probably shouldn’t agonize as much as I do over the rest.
This whole disconnect between preparation, expectation, and the Actual has been bothering me lately; I have been weighed down. I have felt stuck, guilty, worried, afraid, frustrated, sad, annoyed, bitter, and completely unable to understand What-in-the-Ever-Loving is going on. However high my expectations may be for others, they are so much greater for myself. And when the girl with the high expectations is the same one for whom nothing goes as planned, it would appear she is marked for disarray.
But what if life isn’t about preparation for what we expect will happen? What if it is about looking at whatever does happen, and doing what we can to take something from the circumstance that we can use?
Thousands of miles away and over 40 years ago, my favorite song was written: a song about facing life and making the best of it; about taking the raw materials and doing what we can to fashion something functional and beautiful out of them. I am starting to believe that- when everything else is stripped away- this is all I can expect of myself. And it is a high calling indeed.