anticipate v. regard as probable; expect or predict
The OED gives neither a positive or negative connotation to this word, but in my mind and life, this word takes on a negative feeling. It’s most likely due to the combination of Catholic guilt, Italian superstition and past catastrophic health events, but I don’t like to anticipate anything – good or bad. I think of anticipation as similar to those cartoonic situations where Bugs Bunny or some other character is running elatedly about, celebrating something with glee and rapture – and then suddenly steps on a rake and gets knocked to the ground. Or the ever joyous pile of leaves on the sidewalk awaiting a young jumper – who jumps only to find large boulders hidden underneath, creating hurt and harm so suddenly. I suppose you could say I don’t like to count my chickens before they hatch, or, to finish off the bad cliche – put all of my eggs in one emotional basket.
Being this way takes the fun out of a lot of things. And you can bet that having a child makes it even worse. What was once just a fear of not having enough fun or perhaps something being more disappointing than expected turns into an anal retentive, overly cautious, daily, mental shit show that I silently grapple with from minute to minute. I don’t want to anticipate anything being wonderful because it could, possibly, be not so wonderful. Or I don’t want to anticipate something being awful, because life surprises me quite often (at least it goes both ways, right?) I am like some perverted fortune teller in my own life trying to predict how I can prepare to feel before I even get to the place in time where I have to feel it. I always prepare for the worst and hope for the best…which is another way of saying that the fun is never as fun as it could be or I have prolonged “the bad” by bringing it on earlier through worry and negative anticipation.
As a child I didn’t have this problem – until catastrophic things happened in my life (ie. brother with leukemia, dad with a brain tumor, etc. etc.). When I think about all of the bad that happened, I remember the sadness and questioning why, but I also remember that proverbial rake hitting me in the face because I didn’t anticipate anything. When it first happened, I was around 8 years old. I was living an idyllic 8 year old life filled with Cabbage Patch Kids and Jem & The Hologram birthday parties. My scope of pain and anguish spanned about as far as not getting dessert because I didn’t eat my peas or losing one of my best friends to the new girl at school… and then WHAM – brother sick, rake in the face, go to live with family – friends, Sundays as a healthy kid spent reading The Babysitters Club on a pediatric oncology ward while my brother gets chemo, closed doors because another child has passed away – kinda WHAM. Sort of blows the shit out of anticipating comfy Saturday morning cartoons and trips to the Dairy Queen.
So I probably learned this fear of anticipating the good that might be coming down the road way back when I was 8. I know by the time I was around 17, I was still able to anticipate positive things without fear – until my dad got sick and I couldn’t go away to school. That was what really caused the fear of positive anticipation – or fear of enjoying the present – I have today. I suppose it isn’t all that bad though. I have an incredible work ethic because of it. Somehow in my brain, being prepared and working really, really hard counteracts the fear with a sense of accomplishment and keeping busy keeps me in the here and now. But in the back of my mind I know that you can give it all you have for years and years, nearing your goal, seeing the finish line and in your final moment…even a split second of celebration, you can step on that rake again. As a mom, this manifests itself into worrisome thoughts about my son. If his poop is a little to soft, I worry he is getting sick. If he’s not saying a hundred words like the doctor wants him to, is he developmentally delayed. All of a sudden the rake in the yard is a physical being in my life and some days I am afraid to enjoy him because it could all go wrong at any time and this time it will hurt the worst of all.
I have found one vein of wisdom that runs through all of the religion, philosophy and self help I have sought over the years – and that is to live and be concerned with the present. From Buddha to the bible, it is the only solution the universe offers me. Do more down dogs, pray more often, breathe deeper, run farther, hug harder, laugh louder – all of the things that keep me solidly in the present and out of my mischievous, anticipating thoughts. Even if it was bad before and there is more bad headed straight for me, there is always a minute, a moment of peace before it where it isn’t so bad – perhaps a single split second of wonderful. Because even with all the bad that has happened, there are still all of those comfy Saturday mornings, trips to the Dairy Queen and warm hugs from my son. They are quieter and smaller, but they are indelibly there. I couldn’t have planned those moments or prepared for them. I can only surrender to what will be the story of me and string together the moments where I am present and happy like a charm bracelet for my brain. I can measure my fears and heartbreaks in rakes and stones if I am constantly searching backwards and forwards in anticipation. I might collect a handful or two before I die. But if I strive to be here in the present, the millions of peaceful moments and split seconds of wonderful will far outnumber them.
Pick the day. Enjoy it – to the hilt. The day as it comes.
People as they come… The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present
– and I don’t want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future.
– Audrey Hepburn