“We were not a hugging people. In terms of emotional comfort it was our belief that no amount of physical contact could match the healing powers of a well made cocktail.” – David Sedaris
I saw the author David Sedaris speak a few months ago. I am always in utter awe watching someone on a stage with such confidence, who can articulate ideas so well, and throw words around like a baseball…no hesitation, only ease and grace.
He shared a lot of memorable stories that night. But what struck me was the way he spoke of his sisters when they visited him one Christmas in England. It was not so much what he said but the way he said it. His words rung with a deep love and admiration as he painted an image of them stretched out like cats in the sun.
I thought of this after spending last week at the beach with my family. Because we live all over the country, we don’t get to be together in one place very often.
On Thanksgiving morning, I sat watching Matt Lauer with his new salt and pepper facial hair, discuss the gigantic balloons parading down the New York city streets. The balloons looked like I felt, puffy and large from an abundance of food and drink.
I had come down with a cold the first night of our get-together, and my snotty nose and scratchy throat sounded like a train conductor who had spent too many years smoking and drinking whiskey. My sister, mocking my absurd cold inflicted voice, started yelling, “Stop I’m gawna pee my pants,” and I really thought I might.
When I am with my family, I laugh a lot and don’t think much about what I’m wearing in the mornings when we gather for “coffee talk.” Indeed they often have to endure me pantless with tan Grandma underwear and a t-shirt. I don’t worry about what they will think when they see me with my childhood “blankie” which has been my cozy companion since I was two.
But somewhere in the midst of the cloudy and windy weather, my sore throat and nasal congestion, a conversation mired in disagreement and eye rolling, a manager of a restaurant stealing my brothers’ seat and complaining about her job for fifteen minutes, my son having a tantrum when I told him he had something black stuck on his tooth, a speeding ticket (How come flashing my pearly whites for officers never gets me off the hook?), my brother-in-law’s continuous praising of the movie Silver Linings Playbook, and no pumpkin pie, I was reminded about the detriment of expectations.
And there are so many expectations this time of year. And expectations usually lead to disappointments. Although my visions of fruity cocktails on the beach did not come to fruition, and the picture of all fifteen of us together didn’t happen, none of that really mattered. During those few days time was suspended, and at any moment I could look up to see the family I came from playing with the one I made.
How joyful I felt to see the niece I adore so much carrying my daughter on the sand, my mom playing Candy Land, and my son involved in a heated game of ping-pong with his nineteen year old, six foot four cousin.
And although I was tired, and needed a break from talking about Silver Linings Play Book, I miss them all. I miss not knowing what each one of them is doing each second of the day. It always feels strange – even though it has been this way for the majority of my life – that we all go back to our daily routines, returning to what we do when we are not sitting together on a couch talking.
Inevitably, my thoughts jump to when and what our next visit together will be like. And so much can change, and so much is uncertain. I rest in the fragility of the unknown hoping we will all have our health and feel more joyful than sad.
Expectations aside, I simply can’t wait to see them all again…disagreements, colds, tantrums, and all.
And I will need the reminder once again when things don’t go as planned, that these unattainable expectations scream, cry, whisper, yell, sing, bellow, dance, hit, and call us to stay awake in the present moment.
Once again I will be called to listen, bringing to mind these words, “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” From Let your Life Speak by Parker Palmer.