“Expecting is the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today.” ~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca.
There was a very strict rule in our household growing up, regarding gifts (Christmas and Birthday). They were never to be opened before the day. I practiced the same thing as a parent, teaching my kids the importance of waiting, to make the day special. In the days when gifts would arrive in packages from aunts, uncles and grandparents in England, oh the anticipation! One year it resulted in my kids getting some old-fashioned Jamaican discipline from their father. He came across a package which had been opened, and since he knew that I would not have opened it, it must have been one of the kids. And when they insisted it was me that had opened it, he then knew they were lying on top of the crime!
I don’t know if they’ve forgiven me for that. In truth it was me. Advent calendars are commonly found in the US today – I even saw one for a dog, yes, a doggie advent calendar. It was a feature of my childhood (minus any daily treats or chocolates) which began on the first day of December. It would be a large picture of a nativity scene, with tiny doors hidden within the picture, each one numbered from 1 through 24, each one revealing some part of the Christmas story. We took it in turns opening one each day, even though they may have been recycled from prior years, the doors not quite closing properly, but it helped us to do our Christmas countdown.
A package had arrived early, from my mother. I needed to open the package to see if she had included an Advent calendar, since December had already started. Alas there was none. Off I went to work, leaving my husband to discover the opened package, and discipline his kids accordingly. Christmas Joy!
December has always been special to me, my birth month and Christmas. But it also seems to fly by, not giving me long enough to savor each day. And in South Florida (especially in recent years), it is now the first month that we can reliably expect the temperatures to dip slightly. We love South Florida, but 9 months of heat and humidity can take its toll. The cooler, high pressure days, with low humidity and clear blue skies is what we live for, appreciating the temperatures that allow us to pull out boots and scarves and jackets!
Buddhists teach us that we should not live for outcomes, we should appreciate the moments we are in for what they are, rather than living each day dying for Friday to come, or Christmas, or the end of COVID. When you live in the present, appreciating what is special about each moment (the humidity which the flowers love), you are more content. They say that suffering comes from wanting things to be different from what they are. When you are detached from outcomes you can appreciate whatever happens.
This is difficult in a world which measures everything by outcomes. In the nursing program we are judged by our graduates’ ability to pass their licensing exam on the first attempt. If that number slips, we may be put on probation. What should we do differently? What should we change? In our scientific ‘nursing process’ we are taught to plan for outcomes, to choose interventions which will bring those outcomes about, then we evaluate if we have met those outcomes, if not, start again.
Unfortunately we don’t live in a world run by Buddhists! If we did, my job would be much easier and I could sleep better at night. So, the graduates failed at their first attempt. Never mind, they learned a valuable lesson and will work harder next time! The important thing is that they enjoyed the act of learning, and now respect the process more!
But it is interesting to note that sometimes it is when you stop trying so hard, that solutions come. When we are under pressure to achieve outcomes we may miss something obvious, we don’t allow our creativity to flourish and come up with innovations. There are any number of stories of brilliant men who went to sleep after struggling with some scientific conundrum, only to wake up having seen a solution in their dreams. The Chemist Mendeleev is said to have seen the correct order of the periodic table of elements in a dream, after struggling with ways to categorize them for months!
When I finished my nursing program many years ago, I knew I wanted to be with my then boyfriend (later the husband who punished the kids). He was living in Miami. I had written to a large Miami hospital asking if they would sponsor me for a work permit, but I was turned down. I was taking a maternity course after graduation and had decided I would instead go back to Jamaica, having no desire to stay in the UK. I happened to meet up with an older nurse who was working in maternity after having hip replacement surgery. She was not a midwife, but the workload would not be as heavy for someone in her condition. One day I mentioned to her that my boyfriend was in Miami, but I couldn’t find a way to move there legally. She had worked in Miami many years before and she was able to provide me with contacts, people who later assisted me in finding a job, and in finding a hospital to sponsor me for a work visa. When I stopped searching for a solution, the solution came to me!
It is good to remember stories like these as we grow impatient to be done with the COVID imposed restrictions. It is easy to resent the ways our lives have changed this year. It is right to be angry at the mismanagement which has likely led to far more deaths and debilitating illness that should have been avoided. But it is also good and right to appreciate what we have, what we have been forced to slow down and appreciate: life, health, and each other.
As you prepare for Christmas, I hope you are enjoying each day of Advent, which is special in its own way. I hope you do not allow your expectations of what Christmas should be like to cloud your appreciation of what it is. And I send love and light to everyone, especially those who have had to deal with sadness and loss in these interesting times. Have a wonderful December weekend, Family!