By Rev. Carol Bodeau
I’ve been enjoying getting time to talk with many Westsiders these last few months on our weekly Zoom ‘coffee hour’ gatherings. In our pre-pandemic in-person coffee hour, I could only talk to a few of you, in small groups or one-to-one. And usually there was so much else going on—meetings, classes, food to prepare or serve—that those conversations weren’t very deep or lengthy. But now, thanks to our current virtual reality, we get to have long, deep check-ins and conversations each week as a group.
Of course, not everyone participates in our virtual meetings, and many of you are missed during these weekly times of being together. But for those who are able to attend, it is a good time to really hear one another’s thoughts, interests and feelings. This week, our conversation was not so much a ‘check-in’ as a rambling conversation. We touched on food, farming, pets, wildlife, housing development, social justice issues, and the holidays. This last topic struck a chord for me, because this is the beginning of what I consider to be the long holiday season. From the fall equinox through the winter solstice (mid-September into and past late December), I love the visibly shifting and changing seasons, which we mark with a wide range of holidays and special events.
Mind you, I do have some concerns about some of the cultural issues associated with some of the most popular holidays (during coffee hour we mentioned the stereotyping of witches and other earth-based religions during Halloween, and the glorification of colonialism that is central our traditional Thanksgiving), but I love the fact that through these months we mark important themes and values with collective celebration and ritual. And perhaps that’s the part I’m missing in advance already—collective celebration and ritual.
So how do I set my expectations for my favorite season, for some of my favorite expected events, in this year when I know that my expectations will probably not be met. Certainly, they will not be met in the ways I might like them to be. I have personally given the ‘time to reset your priorities’ message many times over the past months, but it’s easier said than done.
How do we create healthy expectations, expectations that nurture hope and a sense of promise, when we don’t really know what to expect, and we can be sure that things probably won’t go as expected?
A couple of things are helping me manage expectations right now:
• Appreciating very small, simple pleasures that are already happening
• And creating one or two very easy-to-meet expectations each day or week.
For example, I can’t necessarily visit family as I might like, but I can reach out to people I normally wouldn’t have time to call or write. I might not be able to know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but I can notice more acutely the smell of dinner cooking, the color of light coming through the window, or the feel of a cool breeze in a hot garden. I can’t plan a big trip across country, but I can take a small day-trip to the lake or a walk in the woods.
But still, there’s a sadness that goes with all of that, isn’t there? There are times when I feel let down, or disappointed, or sad; I have a sense of longing for what isn’t happening right now. And I guess the way I manage that is the same: appreciate the simple fact that I can feel those feelings, that I have those longings, because they represent loving something, caring about something, deeply. And I can plan small ways to comfort, or ease, or create peace for myself, that honor those feelings.
I can watch a movie, or take a nap, or put away the media messaging. I can read a book that encourages me, or draw or color a picture, or do some art, or listen to some music. In other words, I can manage both my expectations, and also my unfulfilled expectations with small, kind gestures towards myself and others. For the long fall holiday season, which I look forward to each year when September arrives, I will have to be more creative this year. Perhaps I’ll pull our craft supplies, or write long letters, or cook something special that takes a really long time to prepare. And I can rest, when I need to, in the knowing that it’s possible to lower my expectations without having to give up what I love.
So I hope that, whether you are feeling calmly happy with the lowered expectations of our time, or struggling with disappointment, grief, and upset, you might find a way to turn small, simple gestures into acts that bring more kindness, more peace, and more caring into your own heart and into the world.