Today I am trying not to be disappointed and failing. Apparently there are no short cuts here – much as I try to invent them – and disappointment weaves its way through my body and soul to its own tempo. I want it to be quick and it refuses, instead meandering and backtracking and stopping to admire the view. Past experience tells me that eventually it will settle itself in a disappointment shaped nook somewhere (a knot in my neck perhaps, or a cosy turn in my lower intestine?) and go into hibernation. In the meantime I have to live with disturbance to my soul.
Yesterday my father-in-law told me he was pulling out of our family trip to Jamaica just after I’d heard that my son hadn’t been selected for a job that he very much wanted. I’m not a complete wimp – I did remind myself that these weren’t matters of life and death but my ‘pull-yourself-together’ self-talk did nothing to assuage the real grief that paralysed me in the moment. An overreaction? Perhaps, but it was a reaction which led me to ask why some important questions. Why am I’m so disappointment-phobic and what’s the story of disappointment I’m telling that’s getting me so twisted?
When I was a baby my mother left me. She had her reasons. I should be over it by now, not least because it happened nearly fifty years ago but also because since that momentous event I’ve survived, and even thrived. Nonetheless it remains the event that marks the birth of disappointment in my life. I imagine that at first, in my undifferentiated baby mind/body/soul, I thought she would come back and that it took a little while to realise that she wasn’t coming back, but that I still hoped that she would. You can’t knock hope can you? Hope is a wonderful thing – a lifesaver in fact. Hope is what you’re stuffed with before disappointment comes and knocks it out of you. Disappointment is hope’s assassin. When I think of disappointment in my stories it’s the multi-headed monster rising up just as the protagonist finds his way home, to gouge out his eyes; It’s the troll under the bridge stopping the Billy Goats Gruff from reaching their grassy green promised land; It’s the wicked stepmother who’s going to make damn sure that Cinderella’s dress doesn’t bang and that her prince never comes. Not exactly the life and soul of the party then.
In many ways, trying to sidestep disappointment is like trying to cheat death – worse even because if death is a frame capturing the beauty of life, fear of disappointment is the bleach draining its colour and eating holes in the canvas. So when I try to write disappointment out of my story I unwittingly write out what makes the story worth telling in the first place – the excitement and anticipation, daring and risk, without which there can be no happy ever after. So disappointment it seems, has a point after all
Today my disappointment is a revelation to me. My refusal to embrace it makes no sense. Why pretend not to want or care about something because I fear it won’t come? Who am I kidding? When, instead of fighting and refusing and trying to ban disappointment, I stop and allow it to be, it opens to reveal precious cargo – passion and desire. I’m disappointed that my father-in-law won’t be in Jamaica with us, yes, but isn’t this just evidence of how much I wanted him to be? Proof of my desire to be in his company and experience the land of his birth through his eyes. The disappointment that my son didn’t get his job is similarly, a reminder of how much I want him, and each of my children, to experience good things and to prosper. Disappointment isn’t a bullet I should be dodging but an opportunity to be intimately alive and feel what moves me. What I do with disappointment is my choice. I can choose to put it on lock down, in which case I get grumpy and tired and develop niggling aches in the disappointment shaped turn in my gut. Or I choose to allow it. When I do, I’m aware of it dropping through me like a pinball in a machine, nudging me where I’m sore and waking me where I’m sleeping.
This monster named disappointment and I, take a breath together. He’s a fierce and fascinating storyteller and I realise my efforts to tame him are futile. It’s hard work trying to send him out and keeping him in is a bellyache (literally). There’s nothing to be gained from hoarding disappointment. There are no prizes out there for the person with the most extensive collection of disappointment, and historical disappointments are no more valuable than those born yesterday. Maybe you knew this already but it’s taken me a while to see disappointment as a visitor that I can meet with more grace, if not quite greet. I imagine it’s a skill that I’ll find enough use for seeing that disappointment is not the kind of treasure that’s in short supply and no doubt, sooner than I would have wished, more will be along.