The audience is warm tonight, and the energy on stage is quick and clipping. I watch from the wings and wait primed for my cue. 3-2-1….I take a deep breath, taking a large step forward to burst into the bright amber light, when the actress on stage stalls. I freeze in the shadows helpless as she fumbles the line and my cue to enter. This was twenty years ago, but when I think of this performance of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean I am immediately whisked back to that heart pounding moment and my palms begin to sweat.
Lately the concept of expectations has been fore front in my mind. I think about it and hear about it quite a bit. The weight of unknown expectations for the upcoming school year has made me a bit anxious. My son, Broc, is so eager to experience 2nd grade with his friends. “I hope we get to have school- real school- with everybody together.” he says. His eyes look at me in earnest for some sort of reassurance that he may have this to look forward to. Inside, my heart sinks to see how the virus has turned my children’s lives upside down and brought such uncertainty in their faces. I wish that I could tell them what to expect, but I am in a ‘let’s wait and see’ mentality as, I imagine, are many families.
I explore the other ways it has manifested in my life as of late. Recently, I spoke with someone very close to me who is in a new romantic relationship, after a series of failed relationships. He shares with me that the reason his relationships fall apart is that the other person is unable to live up to his expectations. My friend expects these romantic counter parts to think, react, and behave in a rather specific and narrow–minded way. Unable to shake his ideology prevents him from discovering these relationships openly and without judgement. Expectations in relationships can be healthy, but without the duality of simply being in the moment as well as looking ahead, it is near impossible to see the other person as they are. Obviously, without this transparency, a reality-based relationship is hard for him to find.
The duality of living in the moment and while holding expectations, was never more apparent than my last trip to the Allatoona Creek Trail System. My family spent Father’s Day on our mountain bikes. This is a new sport for my children. Broc took to it like a fish to water. My daughter, Emma, on the other hand had a much more difficult time navigating her lines. I watched as she zig–zagged the narrow path. Her awareness of the terrain was focused at a mere 6 inches in front of her tires, she was erratically avoiding her obstacles. Small rocks and roots would send her barreling out of control and off course. At the slightest incline she would lose all momentum, as she had not geared down, and would fall. I coached her on the importance of picking her line, the imaginary path she would guide her bike, along the trail. She had to look ahead to see what was coming, so that she was prepared and in the proper gear to tackle the feature. Only in knowing what to expect, will she be able to confidently navigate the trail and no longer feel at its mercy.
Having expectations helps me feel mentally and physically prepared for anything. Expectations guide the process I use for setting my goals. As a kid, my Dad would talk with me about what I wanted and how I planned to achieve it. He trained me to look ahead and make a plan for success. Working problems out in my head helps prepare me for the obstacles I encounter along the way. The problem, right now, is how helpless I feel in dealing with COVID-19 and the economic fallout. Everyday I have a sense that the next shoe is going to drop. My anxiety is rising with every story of small businesses closing or friends who are out of work, and I try to remind myself to find the same duality of focus I recommended to my friend.
I think once again of that performance with the lights burning on the expectant stage. The actress fumbling through pages of dialogue in no resemblance of our rehearsed script. I was waiting in the wings, in those agonized seconds, stress-induced heartbeats drumming in my ears. I willed her back to the script, so I could rush the stage and save the doomed scene. I knew what we needed. I knew what to expect and how to help. The Stage Manager at my side, radioed the lighting tech, and we improvised a rather dramatic entrance. Before we had a chance to mess it up again, the production finished strong, and the audience roared their approval. It turned out to be one of our better shows. The unplanned moments in live performance are what keep it organic. The actors come to life, buzzing with heightened senses. Any production over rehearsed is dead in the water, it loses its breath and vitality.
Life I realize doesn’t have the luxury of dress rehearsals. Unplanned events can at times feel catastrophic. Knowing what to expect definitely brings comfort to my life. I tell my son, when he asks me about school, that we can expect his teachers are going to do their best to give him a safe wonderful school year, and he can expect his friends are just as excited to see him as he is of them. I advise my friend to look at his expectations of others and determine which are helping him meet his goal of a healthy relationship, and which are not. Those of the latter must be let go. I see my daughter use her expectations of the mountain trails to prepare herself for success in overcoming her obstacles with gaining confidence. I expect that no matter how different life might look in the upcoming months, the show must go on.