One of the things I’ve learned from breast cancer is to stop spending so much time focusing on expectations and what could be, versus what actually is.
Before I had breast cancer, expectations caused me more pain and drama than almost anything in my life. I had expectations about everything my whole life. Expectations about how things would turn out. Expectations about how I would turn out. Expectations about the big things in life like marriage, parenting, career and also about the tiny most inane things.
Every time I had expectations about the outcome of something, and it then manifested in another way, I’d be disappointed. Or puzzled and confused about how it didn’t fit my pictures of what I expected.
How much richer life would be if I were able to live in the moment and live into what is, versus what my expectations are.
I’m aware of all the things I missed because I had expectations instead of living in the moment. I wished my parents were less judgmental about my life choices, instead of seeing them for who they were. Now that I’m older, I see how I missed many years of their presence before I learned to accept them as they were, and I regret that I missed much of that time now that they’re both gone.
I spent years wishing that my husband was more communicative and introspective and then realized how strong and solid he was in a crisis during my breast cancer treatments and realized that he didn’t need to talk, as just being strong and solid was exactly what I needed at that time in my life.
I always wished I had straight hair, instead of the unruly curls on my head, until I lost it all during chemo and suddenly I wished I just had hair, any hair, and the curly hair I had before was exactly what I wanted. Cancer made me see a lot of what I was missing with all my expectations. I often wonder if I would have learned the lesson without getting breast cancer.
Just when I think I’ve learned the lesson, I see I still have a lot to learn.
Last summer I put up several new, big bird feeders. I was so excited to put them up and as soon as they were all filled with bird seeds, I went back inside to watch them from the kitchen window, expecting to see masses of colorful birds flock to the feeders immediately. I circled back and forth to the kitchen window all day, wondering when the birds would finally appear, but only got a few takers that day.
The next morning, I got up and ran down to the kitchen window. Surely, there would be a huge flurry of birds circling the feeders that morning?! But, again, there were only a few random birds here and there throughout that day. Slowly but surely over several weeks, I saw a few more birds each day. The process wasn’t what I had anticipated, it was much slower and more gradual versus what I had expected (there’s that word again). I thought the day I put them up I’d immediately have a yard full of beautiful, colorful birds clustered around the new feeders. They eventually came on a daily basis over a period of several months but I was distracted by my expectations of immediate gratification and didn’t see the beauty which was slowly unfolding in front of me over a few months time.
One recent day I was walking on my favorite walking path, the beautiful Landsdown trail and shouted dramatically into the quiet “Please help me find love and peace in my life,” crying into the void as I felt alone and lonely, wondering why my life wasn’t what I had expected. A few months later I realized that I actually do have love and peace in my life. It just doesn’t look like what I thought it would look like. Maybe I’ve read too many books, seen too many movies. I expect things to be very clear, very literal. I miss the subtleties of reality, where words aren’t always there, but actions speak to the truth.
What’s the lesson? Have I learned anything from it, will I change going forward or will I always be searching for things that I don’t have instead of focusing on the things I have that are deeply gratifying and satisfying?
I think I’ve learned how to appreciate what I have, versus what I think I want. But it has taken me almost my entire life and I can remember what it was like when I was younger and how expectations really thwarted my ability to enjoy and appreciate what I had in life.
Now is the time in my life to focus on experiencing the peace and joy I’ve spent my whole life searching for. It’s right in front of me when I just open up my eyes and see it. It’s in the walks I take with Tucker who experiences every moment anew. It’s in the sudden intake of breath I experience when I look up and see an unexpectedly beautiful sky. It’s what I experience as I walk that same Landsdown pathway and see the new buds of spring as they appear on the branches and trees around me. It’s that moment when I get an unexpected phone call or text from my grown kids and feel a moment of pure joy about how they’ve turned out.
Life is a miracle and a gift. Maybe it’s breast cancer that taught me that lesson. Maybe it was the experience of having my children. Maybe it’s just age. Of course, it’s all those things and more. I’m just very grateful to be experiencing peace and joy in my life.