Help and Hope

Anticipation vs. Expectation

July 16th, 2017

Rev. Karyn Packard

Let me tell you about a little friend of mind.  Douglas was six when he came to Kapiolani Women’s and Children’s hospital in Honolulu for his first brain surgery.  His parents lived on a pig farm on the Big Island of Hawaii.  They were very poor.  They did not have a TV and they had no religious background.  The Alani’s had 6 other children.  They could not afford to fly back and forth to Honolulu to be with their little boy.  They asked if I would help.  I made a commitment to spending some time with him every day.  It was my joy.  In fact, the one time they all came to see Douglas, they also attended my Ordination to The Ministry.  All eight of them sat in the front row.

On Christmas Eve, I had been bringing the Children’s Cancer Choir through the hospital medical units in their red wagons to sing for patients and staff.  My children came along as well.  It was a Christmas Eve tradition for us.  When we finished, I went to see Douglas, to wish him Merry Christmas before we all went home.  Douglas was excited.  He asked, “Tutu Karyn, there is a man and boys and girls at the end of my bed and they want me to come with them”, “Should I go?”  Douglas died that night –  full of anticipation for what was to come.  No fear, no church doctrine, no TV evangelists, no parent opinions, no chaplain intervention.

Anticipation in life and Anticipation even in Death.

July’s Soul Matter topic is “Anticipation”.  I have to tell you that this has been one of my favorites.  The material asks us – and I ask each of you today.  What does it mean to live a life of…anticipation, with openness to possibilities?  Many of you know that I was not ordained Unitarian Universalist.  So I found myself doing a little research on UU theology.  I see that we have much in common.  We prepare ourselves for support through listening and openness as Melissa did today in her guided meditation.  We commit ourselves to both Hope and Help…we know we can count on them.  We believe that we can anticipate having help, and we can anticipate a hopeful future.

Catch what I said and also what I didn’t say.  I said that we could anticipate them.  What I didn’t say was that we could expect them.  What is the difference between anticipation and expectation.   It is a fine line.  To me, expectation is believing that something will happen, in a specific way.  On the other hand, anticipation is about excitement and eagerness.  It is about believing in the potential for something good to happen, but not being attached to a certain outcome in the process.

I grew up with many expectations.  Some came from outside and some I laid on myself.  They had to do with manners, grades, completed chores, character, responsibility, excellence…maybe some of those expectations were part of your growing up too.  The hard thing was, it was up to me to meet those expectations, and I was always anxious that I wouldn’t measure up. I expected, at most, to be a secretary, if I worked hard, and still I would worry.  Bob says to me, “do you believe it, I am 72 years old, I still worry what my deceased Dad would say about what I am doing.”   Do you worry?  Are you anxious or fearful?  Are you spending lots of time trying to figure out how to control your life or guide the lives of your family members? Whether they want you to or not!  Are you stuck in expectation?  Do you expect your life to play out per a predetermined script?   Gerald May, a favorite theologian of mine, reminds us that “Grace (unexpected gifts) fills an empty cup rather than a full one.”  His premise is that when our hands and minds are fixated on worry, anxiety, addiction and a need to control outcomes, our cup is full…too full of ourselves to receive the surprising gifts that are being offered to us by others or from the mystery of the universe. Our lives are meant to be filled with possibilities, with surprises.  When we are too full of ourselves to see what is offered, it is time for spiritual receptivity.  With an empty cup, created with listening and openness, fresh understandings take root and insights emerge that are clearer, simpler, and more beautiful.

Anticipation is different from expectation.  It is open ended.   As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to Listen and to be Open.  Our assumption is, if we live in excitement and eagerness we prepare ourselves for something good to happen.  I hear your questions now.  Hey Karyn, something good does not always happen!  You are right.   Yes, anticipation is freeing, but no, life does not always have a positive outcome?  Of course it doesn’t. Old Testament Scholar Walter Brueggeman tells us, “life does not consist in pleasant growth to well-being, but it consists in painful wrenchings and surprising gifts.  And over none of them do we preside”.   Trusting in unexpected gifts ask us to live differently.  We are reminded to live in Hope and to rely on Help.

Let me tell you another story, a story that taught me about anticipation.

For about 18 years, I led a Thursday night grief support group.  It was an open group, no interview required and people could stay as long as they wanted or needed.  In that environment, there were lots of challenges as you might imagine.  However, I had the blessing of witnessing many of the “surprising gifts” that Brueggeman talked about working with these grieving people.  I’d like to share one of them with you.

As you might imagine, there were more women than men in these groups.  The men usually didn’t stay too long.  They didn’t want to just keep talking about their loved one or their long illness process.  They wanted to learn how to cope…how to “move along”.  For some, death had come too soon.  For others, after long and meaningful lives together.  That is true for both of the people I will tell you about today.  Let me introduce Willard and Hazel.  Willard, a Scottish gentleman, didn’t follow quite the same track as most of the men who attended.  He decided to stay.  In the weeks that followed, Willard (89) seemed to be shifting his interest in grief support to an interest in Hazel.  Hazel was also Scottish, and also an octogenarian. She too had been blessed with a long marriage and came to the group very weary after years of caretaking.   Now to see the two of them…well you would never have been able to imagine a romance.  They were each quite plain and also a bit bent with bad knees and hips. But they do say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I watched with interest through the months as they began to sit progressively nearer each other.  Then they began to arrive together and when Hazel began to look at her watch to remind Willard when to take his pills.  Mmm…possibilities!

Well, I was in my office on January 2nd, when a call came in from Hazel’s son in Denver.  You see it was customary, every New Year’s Day, for him and his Mom to have a phone conversation.  But this year…no phone call.  He was worried.  He had called his mom’s home several times, and you guessed it, no answer.  In fact, he had just notified the police.  Did I have any idea where she might be?  Well, I didn’t tell him just yet, but indeed I did!  I told him I would call him right back and quickly called Willard’s home.  I knew they had gone to the party in the city park on New Year’s Eve.  Willard answered the phone. I asked if Hazel was there…pause…yes she was.  Hazel came to the phone.  I told her that her son was looking for her.  In fact, he had called the police.  “Oh my, she said, “I totally forgot”. There was a pause and a chuckle and then Hazel explained.  Well, after the party, we had to soak the black eyed peas overnight for New Year’s Day.  Then we had to put them on to cook first thing in the morning (they take a long time), and then later in the day, they took them door to door to share with his neighbors for good luck.  There was another long pause…and Hazel said, (I could hear the grin in her voice), “You know Karyn, there may by snow on the mountain, but there is still fire in the furnace”.  My last word of pastoral advice to Hazel, “call your son quickly”.

Hazel and Willard didn’t return to the grief group.  But I did see them I both again in the hospital when they got their knees repaired before their upcoming trip to Scotland. They were planning on dancing the Highland Fling.  The anticipation of discovering new possibilities, even so late in life, became their greatest joy.  It got them through their grief, their physical therapy and eventually through both of their deaths in their 90’s.

Keep your ears and eyes open for “Surprising Gifts”

Anticipation in life…Anticipation in death

May it be so…for all of you.