Independence from expectations

It’s time like these I remember again that everything is uncertain, always. I thought I had grasped that concept before, but the pandemic has taken it to a whole new level. See before, I was thinking about it from within the microcosm of my life; like, everything is uncertain: you never know when you’ll be diagnosed with a chronic condition, or lose your job, or win a gift certificate to a barbecue restaurant from a folk festival raffle. You just never know! I didn’t expect to have to think about it on a macro level: everything is uncertain, you never know when the planet itself will be diagnosed with a chronic condition, when millions of people’s jobs will be dissolved, when the foundation of festivals, concerts, weddings, funerals, the celebrations and ceremonies we build our lives around, will fall away, leaving us…stripped down, unadorned by the trappings of tradition.

I’m thinking about this on the Fourth of July, aka Independence Day. When this all began, I remember being intensely sad about the world. Then I remember allowing myself to also feel sad about all of the things I was looking forward to in this year that would clearly not be happening. But now, longing for trips, conferences, concerts, feels sort of like longing for a sunroof when you don’t have a car. What an amazing exercise in becoming aware of everything we were taking for granted! Layers upon layers of granted. Not just the feelings, the forces, that we take for granted, like love, but all of the ways that we acknowledge it in our daily lives. As another friend is likely postponing her wedding ceremony, I think about how invisible so many of the things that make life rich are until they are unavailable. When I first moved to town and didn’t know anyone, I was lonely. I had a strong community in Asheville and it’s a hugging place, so I would hug or pat on the back or sit next to a friend nearly everyday. In my new town, before friendships had really been made, I was operating at a closeness deficit. I remember riding the crowded bus home from school and feeling so comforted just by being near to other people. In our present reality we are separated by a force field of threat from friends and strangers, and this calls into question what being close to other people really does for us. How being separate makes us, in a way, trapped with ourselves. And for many, I’m sure it makes us long to reach out and connect in a small, simple way, like a hug or a conversation close enough to see the other person’s pupils, that we didn’t even know was so meaningful.

Each year on July 4th I like to declare myself independent from something that’s holding me back. This year, I’m declaring myself independent from my expectations for how things were supposed to go and how they are supposed to be in general. But bigger than that, I’m declaring independence from my expectations about the ingredients of happiness within a given experience. I’m letting the word happiness stand in for whatever pure, unadulterated feeling is necessary for meaningfulness. To be clear, adequate resources, shelter, relative security, all of these are necessary for what we think of as long-term happiness. But in the moment, the kind of food on a shared table, the airplane ticket to a far-off place, the goal and the striving for the next work or life accomplishment, all seem starkly independent from the point. And, knowing that what I really miss now is the ease of connection, once all those other things are accessible again, I hope to remember that.