Expectation: Transit (Chapter 1)

As she woke up in the pod, she remembered three things. First, she was traveling through open space. Second, she was about to start a new job, one she could not screw up. Third, she had bribed a government official into giving her a new identity file. None of this information was new, but it wasn’t pleasant to wake up to.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Theme

Expectation felt like the appropriate lens through which to consider the first chapter of this new adventure. I am attempting to free myself from my own expectations of what this sacred text journey will bring, but honestly my hopes are high and my spirit full.

Expectations are odd. They are a function of memory. Expectations are built on what we have been told and shown, as well as what we’ve experienced ourselves. They can give us something to hope for or something to dread. We can expect to have a good time with friends or expect to be mocked by a bully day after day. So much of what we expect depends on the context — on who we are, who we’re with, and the context of our lives.

Personal Story

No one knows what to expect when they get married, not really. There’s nothing that can prepare you for the tradition of entwining your life with another. I was 19 when I married. I expected a lifetime together – good times and bad, healthy and ill, laughter and pain. I expected to grow and learn. I expected love. I did not expect to divorce at 33. I did not expect the hurt or stagnation. I did not expect that, in most ways, divorce would be the best decision I ever made. I did not expect that, in one way, it would lead to the greatest grief of my life thus far.

So much of our expectations are shaped by what we’ve been told our lives will be. The American millennial trope is being told you were special and capable of anything as a child, only to reach adulthood in a political and economic nightmare and discover that, actually, when you reach for the moon, you might land in the wreckage rather than the stars.

Speaking of stars….

The Chapter

Our story starts with a character we will soon know to be Rosemary. She is the only character who appears in the first chapter. It’s barely a page in length, but we still learn the perfect amount to tease us into reading more.

Rosemary is traveling through space but cannot see the stars.

She is starting a new job, and it is vital that she do it well.

She has been given a new identity, one she had to bribe a government official to receive.

And she isn’t happy about any of it.

Every day, we wake up full of expectations. I wonder if it would even be possible to get through our lives without the most basic expectations. How long could we remain sane if we went to bed unsure that we would wake the next? Could we stand to face each day if we didn’t expect the sun to rise? Our lungs to fill?

I’ve never bribed anyone to hand me a new life, but I think we’ve all experienced waking up to the disorientation of the unexpected — like when someone wakes us in the middle of a REM cycle, or we find ourselves in the liminal space of a hotel room, or the substances we ingested washed away the previous night before it could be stored away by our neurons.

Expectations are the reason we struggle to sleep the night before the first day of school or a new job. It’s impossible to settle and rest when we don’t know what to expect next. Our breath literally gets trapped in our lungs when we are surprised. We cannot live our lives breathless.

Reading this chapter through the lens of expectation, I thought of all the people who wake up truly not knowing what to expect — a small child with absent parents or a person whose home is now a warzone. I thought of all the uncertainty laid out before us. Our history is full of political and economic cycles, but we’ve never faced climate change before. Well, at least not since the last ice age.

Trauma is what happens when we don’t know what to expect or when our expectations are shattered.

In these few paragraphs, Rosemary is woken again and again, coming to terms with overwhelming expectations again and again. Her expectations for the trip were low from the start. Cheap travel meant cheap fuel and a cheap pod and cheap drugs that couldn’t keep her unconscious. She went in expecting to be disappointed by the system.

We are constantly being let down by the systems we depend on. Covid clarified that in a way only a global pandemic can. When we expect to be disappointed, whether by a person or a system, it is a symptom of something broken and unhealthy. By the time we’ve learned to expect it, the pathways are set. Healing and change for the better becomes the unexpected.

When the expectations we have for our lives are interrupted, by death or divorce or global pandemic, we can be surprised by the things we miss. Rosemary thinks of bustling planets and travel lanes when she is surrounded by nothing but “horrible emptiness.” We expect traffic. We don’t expect the accident that takes our life. Except, of course, when we do expect it. What is anxiety if not the expectation of pain?

But no amount of anxious worry ever truly prepared me for the reality of hurt, heartbreak, and grief. It never goes exactly how we expect — no matter how many scenarios our brains invent. The trick is meeting reality for what it is, but I wonder if that’s even possible when all we have to rely on is our senses and the brain they’re connected to.

If I’m honest, there was a part of me that knew my marriage would fail, a part of me that did expect it. Was that just the rational part of me that knew more than half of all marriages end in divorce? Or was I ignoring my inner wisdom to acquiesce to the expectations of society? A bit of both, I think.

This chapter ends with Rosemary falling unconscious once more and one final sentence: “The pod, presumably, continued on.”

We do not know what happens while we sleep. We do not know what will happen when we wake. We have to expect the expected until the unexpected happens (or until we make it happen). The alternative is preparing for a future that will only ever exist in our heads. As the song goes….

Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.

Que Sera, Sera by Doris Day and Frank De Vol

So we trust the sun will rise and the pod will continue on. If we find ourselves in the darkness of space with a broken pod, we will deal with it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pack a flashlight, a distress beacon, and the owner’s manual for the spaceship. It does mean we accept that, no matter how well we plan, life will not turn out how we imagine.

Expectations can be hope, but expectations can also be chains. The balance is in knowing that expectations are never reality.

Sacred Reflection: Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a four step practice in which you choose a random sentence, then reflect on that sentence through narrative, allegory, personal reflection, and invitation. The sentence I chose at random was:

She had flickered into consciousness several times since launch — surfacing in confusion, falling back just as she’d gotten a grasp on things.

Narrative — What’s happening at this moment in the story?

Rosemary has woken up and realized where she is and what’s happening to her. She’s still a bit disoriented, but remembers that she’s on her way to a new job and that she’s left everything in her life behind.

Allegory — What stories, symbols, or metaphors are brought to mind?

“Flickered into consciousness” makes me think of a light or screen turning on. We talk about our phones waking up and dying. A little resurrection with each charge. I’ve often wondered how this use of language influences how we think of death. Sleep is little death each day. But is it a fair comparison when we go to sleep expecting to wake? Then again, how many of us are expecting death when it happens?

There is a popular hypothetical question: If you could know the exact time of your death, would you want to?

Apparently, most people say no. But I am 100% in the yes column. Knowing that one piece of information would be such a relief. Whether it is soon or distant, I could plan. It would be at least one thing I could expect.

The way Rosemary starts to remember her circumstances just as she falls asleep again is familiar to me. I wake up a bit at night, but our society isn’t built for night owls. So just when I’m feeling like I’ve got a grip on the day, it’s time to go to sleep. It does feel like surfacing in confusion only to lose it all in an endless cycle. Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill. Thankfully, there is some variety in the rocks I push and the hills I climb.

Reflection – How does this sentence speak to you in your life today? And how can it be read through our theme?

There have definitely been times in my life when I’ve expected to be miserable, which only made me more miserable. And times when I expected to be happy and wasn’t, which was its own misery. I’m in therapy with a therapist I really trust for the first time in my life. And there are so many lessons and realizations I am awakening to, one right after another. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s also freeing.

Rosemary is walking into a brand new situation. She’s left her whole life behind. You can’t experience something like that and not have a hundred revelations. Some come quick and some come slow, some are easy and others are earth-shattering. The only way out of the discomfort is through it, trusting that you’ll be better on the other side.

Invitation – What action do you feel called to take in your own life as a result of this practice?

I want to let go of expectations. I want to let go of what other people think of me. It matters what I think of myself. I feel called to listen to myself. My opinion. My body. My feelings. My mind. I spent far too long conforming to the expectations of others when really it was my expectation of their expectations. It wasn’t reality at all. I’m already working on this, but I suspect it may be a lifetime endeavor.

Blessing

There’s really only one character in this chapter, so it’s easy to choose. I want to bless Rosemary for making the hard choice. I know I’ve avoided making hard choices many times in my life for fear of upsetting expectations. And it’s often so much easier to choose the discomfort you know over the discomfort you don’t.

But, as we’ll find out, Rosemary drew a line in the sand. She knew her boundary and, even though it cost her everything, she respected herself and the reality of the situation, so she made the choice that fit her values. A blessing for Rosemary and everyone who turns their life upside down to do the right thing.


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