I am getting excited about the holidays. I love the well placed sequence of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. In America, anyway. I love my Canadians, but Thanksgiving just isn’t the same pre-November. It steals all the thunder from Halloween, and leaves us drifting through November, with nothing to distract us from the wait to December. As far as I’m concerned, the first of October is the home stretch in a long year of waiting, waiting to go home again. And our kick off is Halloween, a holiday I love a little more every year, because it is the domino that tips all the rest over. Halloween, Thanksgiving; Thanksgiving, Christmas; Christmas, trip home; Trip home, New Year’s among friends, again. Sigh. New Years, January-still home (in the states). It is the first in a 4 month cycle, that helps us slog through the other 8 months, until we’re home again. February, back to Chile. Put the dominoes away until next year.
So, speaking of cycles, back to Halloween, the first holiday. It’s got me thinking of the joker. More specifically, Heath Ledger’s Joker, in the brilliantly done “Dark Knight.” And what is one of the two most memorable movie lines I have heard in 10 years. It goes like this:
You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan”. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!
Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!
Why does this quote resonate so? This observation about “the plan” is so astute. It is not the chaos of the world around us that surprises. It is the disruption of our expectations that we generally find so horrifying. This can take many forms. It occurred to me today that there is a grammar analogy hiding in our expectations. In linguistics, there is a concept of diagramming sentences. Sounds sexy, right? Diagramming sentences is a way of showing the “deep” grammar that undergirds surface grammar. Like, for example, if I say to you “wanna go?” you know I REALLY mean, “DO YOU want to go?” If you are a native speaker, this is obvious to you. You know who the subject is, you know it’s a question. But maybe you never thought about what is down there, under the waterline, past that ill spoken ice-burg. Maybe, you never realized that the ‘do’ and the ‘you’ were sitting down there, pushing the rest above surface.
Expectations are like that. I had some expectations above the water line for years. I knew they were there. For one, I used to love Barbara Kingsolver-in particular, in my early 20’s, I loved the character she’d imagined in the Bean Trees, who unexpectedly falls in love with an abandoned baby she calls “Turtle;” a baby she ends up keeping. I wanted Turtle. I loved her too. And one day, I met her, in my real life. And fall in love I did. My expectations cut a wide swath for such a marvelous marriage of circumstance and blessing, that when it happened to me, I met it gratefully. However, getting married was never really on my ice-burg. But Turtle and I crashed into a ship, we’ll call him my husband, and it set us off-course. Oops-see that there. That’s the evidence.
The deep grammar, the underwater expectations I had went something like this:
- Have a house
- Have some babies, free and easy
- Live with those babies in that house right down the street from sister. Just like when we were kids….
- Sister has babies, free and easy, and she lives right down the street from me, just like when we were kids….
- Have a car
- Have health insurance, house insurance, car insurance, life insurance.
- Somewhere, hovering in the background, must be a lucrative job, or well heeled man. It seemed as necessary and unfamiliar to me as the family piano. Something that must be in the living room, but I have no idea how to play it.
Guess what. After the Turtle miracle, nothing went “according to the plan.” And believe me when I say nothing, nothing. We have the pain and privilege of experiencing the world through a new set of eyes. The eyes of “them.” And by them, I mean, everyone who’s expectations are necessarily less than mine, based a life experience and place of birth. Granted, mine weren’t obvious to me until they weren’t met, but how scandalous it feels when things do not go according to the plan. And I am met by another realization, something I could only recognize in the mirror of my sister. We were set up to expect so much! We had a house, a green lawn, regular dental visits and cross country trips to see grandma; summer and winter resort vacations; bicycles and health care and team sports. Visits to the hair dresser, and packed lunches, courtesy mom. We had new Easter dresses, and school clothes shopping; regular visits to the mall and the movie theatre, and annual Christmas “girl’s weekends” to Seattle. What a set up! I didn’t realize until very recently how wired I am to expect my life to look like my parents. I wonder how true that is for other people.
I can be a slow learner, so certainly it is silly to be 35, having the aha moment that my life doesn’t have to, and won’t, resemble my parent’s life. When I was a child, I was convinced that when I was an adult, I would be able to play the piano. Not because I practiced, but because my mother knew how. It seemed a rite of adulthood: grow up, have 2 kids, a backyard, and the magical ability to play the piano. Isn’t that what everyone has? I didn’t know too many people who didn’t. That was the set up. And then I grew up. I don’t play the piano. I don’t have 2 kids. I don’t own a house or have a backyard, health insurance, life insurance, car insurance or fire insurance. And suddenly, that much insurance seems a little ridiculous.
Suddenly, paper towels and razors are luxury items. The internet and hot water are available on the good days. When my daughter gets the wind knocked out of her, and a few bruises falling out of a tree, or off a see saw, my first thought is to pray she doesn’t have to go to the hospital. Because how will we pay for it, and even if we could, who want to go to THAT hospital? It’s a little like chaos. It is, as the joker noted, fair. More than fair, because it’s about time we experience a taste of what passes for normal in most countries. It is less than fair, because it’s about time we experience what passes for normal, and we still haven’t even gotten there. We feel safe, we eat, we have a few bedrooms, and most months, we can come up with the money for Turtle’s sport. Someone buys us tickets home, when the dominoes start tipping. But the deep grammar is there, causing a sea quake, robbing our small island of peace. If I could just forget all those expectations, it would be so much easier to enjoy the view.
There is an image circulating the internet (our should I say Pinterest?) that has resonated with me for the last year. It says “Don’t let comparison steal your joy.” I realized awhile ago that social media sites like Facebook and Instagram can have a numbing effect, when you see all the shiny happy parts of other people’s lives, and feel like you somehow missed the boat. I have learned to take them with a bucket of salt, and realized that a major factor for curating the appearance of a happy life is a great camera and some photographic talent (I have neither). I wouldn’t mind if a few people posted status updates that said things like “electricity got cut again,” and “screaming match with 10 year old again. Isn’t it a little early for puberty?” But the internet is not REAL. So of course, the things we put on the internet are not real.
I recently read “The Hole in our Gospel,” written by the founder of World Vision, and I was struck when I reached a chapter about a man who travels abroad, and while staying in a home as a border, does his host a favor by emptying her bathtub of the still water collected there. When he lets her know about the “favor” he did her, she begins to cry, because the tub had been full of the only clean water she would have for a month. What a good illustration of people who have no idea about want meeting those who do. We grow up with this 1950’s maxim about eating everything on our plate, because people “in Africa” have nothing to eat. And somehow, that to has a numbing effect on us. Of course people in Africa have nothing to eat, because they live IN AFRICA. That’s somehow part of the plan, so it doesn’t seem so horrifying.
I follow a blogger who works with midwives, helping foment rural health care in Zambia. One of her recent posts is about trying to offer solace to a mother who lost her fifth baby. FIFTH baby. And in her post, she says: “I have heard of hospital staff withholding medication or giving lethal doses to patients whose lives they deemed worthless.” (Every Minute of Every Day) And I can’t help but think of the Joker, and “the plan.” Lately, I have been thinking and reading a lot about abortion, primarily in America, and was rocked when I was diverted to a page about the enforcement of the single child policy in China, and the many abuses and murders that have been committed against Chinese families to enforce it.
It took my breath away a little, to realize that in all my years of grieving over an inability to have a second child, I NEVER thought about the fact that there is an entire enormous COUNTRY where EVERYONE is only allowed ONE child-because that is the PLAN. And if you breach it, your family members will be detained and tortured, some murdered. Your nearly full term babies will be ripped from your womb, and as a woman, you will be forced to undergo a process of sterilization
(http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/news/chinas-one-child-law). Why don’t we hear more about this? Why isn’t it all over the news? Why don’t we hear a whole lot more about a whole lot more things? I am guessing because they are all part of the “plan.” Of course, ironically, this year there have been 964,340 babies aborted in the US (http://www.numberofabortions.com/) to date, because they are NOT part of the plan. This is a big difference between the US and Chile. Abortion is still illegal here. And it changes the culture. Everything is not dominated by a PLAN. We don’t go to parties at X time (of course everyone is late here!), we don’t leave parties at X time, we don’t go to bed at X time, and if you get knocked up, you are going to have that baby. Which means no man is going to pressure you to get “rid” of your baby, because it’s not convenient to him. No parent is going to push a child towards an abortion clinic, because it gets in the way of college (the plan). People adapt. Children are CHERISHED. Because they are not the fruit of a plan. They are gifts. They are adventures. They are what life is ABOUT.
My daughter is anti-type A. I think, on a scale, she’s about a Z. I hover somewhere around G. Which means there is a rub. We have endeavored to take morning walks before we start our school day, so she can exercise her anger, which has lead to the untimely deaths of a few bugs. It’s our new plan to avoid a bug holocaust. But, I am ever mindful of the hour, because we have to get other things done, besides the walk. So mindful, that many mornings sound like this:
“Mommy, look at the flower!”
“Yes Turtle, that’s great. Keep marching.”
“Mommy, look at the ladybug.”
“*Sigh* Amazing. Please keep walking.”
“Mommy, look at the Hummingbird!”
“Ack! I don’t CARE about the hummingbird. We have to get HOME. Puh-LEASE WALK!”
(By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, we repeat this scene OFTEN). We recently had one of these interactions, and I had a temporary moment of sanity, and thought “what? I don’t CARE about a hummingbird? My daughter’s great passion? One of God’s greatest works of art?” But it wasn’t part of the plan! So we stopped, and it happened. A small crescendo of joy, as I stood in a dilapidated park with my very unplanned child, and watching a tiny jeweled miracle dart around, on a beautiful warm day, under a lovely tree.
I know some of us are type A, and we need a plan. A plan is not bad! I’m not saying it is. But slavery to a plan, happiness built on the realization of that plan ROBS our JOY. So my halloween wish for all of us (can I have a halloween wish?) is that we all embrace a little chaos; that we relinquish our dependence on the plan, and that we are more aware of our brother’s and sister’s around the world that are suffering, and don’t accept is as part of any plan. My new maxim is “Don’t let the PLAN steal your joy, or anyone else’s.”