Monday, November 8, 2010

Curbing My Overactive Expectations

The grocery store I've been going to for the past 21 years has been remodeled, which I think is great, because it now has more organic items, among other things. The problem is, other people seem to agree--so much so that they must have given up their previous grocery stores to frequent this one instead. And frankly, every time I go to the place it's more crowded than I prefer. So I sometimes have to temper myself when another flock of wide-eyed shoppers bungs up the isles with their carts.

Of course, I know they're not the real issue. My brother Mark made that clear 34 years ago.

When he was 19 he sent me a plaque for my 16th birthday. This motto was inscribed on it: “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

Mark was and still is notorious for teasing me, so I wasn't sure if he was making a joke or attempting to share something profound. At the time, he was a penniless college student, so an extravagant gift wasn't an option.

I remember sitting cross-legged on my canopied bed, staring at that shellacked-wood plaque, when it finally dawned on me just how clever my brother was. Maybe he couldn't afford to buy me much, but at least he could give me something that might teach me a lesson in taking responsibility for how I reacted to other people's gifts.

Unfortunately, it didn't exactly sink in.

If it had, ten years later I might have been able to more graciously receive the gift my husband would give me.

I was 26 and we were celebrating our one-year anniversary of dating. Tearing open that wrapped box, I expected something as lovely as the Lalique crystal candy dish and pedestal bowl that he'd given me for Christmas six months earlier.

It wasn't even close.

I stared at the thing, looked at him and blinked.

“You mentioned your iron was broken," he said. After which I lectured him on the kinds of gifts girls expected on dating-anniversaries.

I wasn't able to appreciate that he had actually listened when I told him my iron had broken--or that he was giving me something he thought was meaningful, because it was useful and something I needed. When you're filled with want for pretty and frivolous, you have no space for practical.

I'm often not aware I still do that--expect something--until some person, place or thing doesn’t exactly match up to what's envisioned in my head. Then I know it. I feel it. It’s as uncomfortable as a too-small shoe.

A few years ago I ordered a watch from a jewelry store and was told it would arrive in a week. When a week passed by, and I didn’t hear back, I called the store. The salesperson said the watch hadn’t arrived, so she called the watch company, who told her the band I’d chosen had been discontinued; therefore, they couldn’t send the watch.

So I chose another band and was told the watch would arrive in a week.

When a week passed by, and I didn’t hear back, I called the store. The salesperson said the watch hadn’t arrived, so she called the watch company, who told her the order had been submitted incorrectly; therefore, they couldn’t send the watch.

So the salesperson resubmitted the order and told me the watch would arrive in a week.

You’d think at this point I would have detected a pattern and adjusted my expectations. But I didn’t. I wanted that watch and I wanted it now. It was an established jewelry store, so I assumed they would get their act together and get the watch when they said they would.

But all my assuming and wanting couldn’t make it so.

It was three more weeks, six weeks total, before the store received that watch. I can’t remember the reasons they gave for the delays, but in the midst of it all I felt frustrated, irritated, neglected, disappointed and lied to. I could have easily canceled the order, gone somewhere else, chosen a different watch. Or just accepted what was. But I didn't.

It's so annoying when my brother is right.