I’d like to erect a shrine to disappointment. A mate I met knocking around writers’ rooms in my 20s recently said, ”Dev, gag-writing’s a young man’s game. By our age the disappointment has set in.” I disagreed. But I got it – the disappointment setting in.
I was about 10 years old when I realised my parents weren’t perfect. What was most startling was the assumption embedded in the revelation, that I’d assumed they were.
From as soon as my little boys were old enough to talk I drilled them: ”You don’t expect me to be perfect and I won’t expect you to be. Deal?” It worked. On the weekend I said: ”Ice creams on me! Who’s the best mum in the world?” The six-year-old enthusiastically replied: ”Angelina Jolie!”
Growing up, everyone believes they’ll end up with the perfect family, the perfect parents, the perfect partner, the perfect life, home, kids, job, looks, body and friends. But bit by bit, if you’re lucky, disappointment sets in.
If you’re not, it’s blame, anger or self-pity. Fantasies of success, revenge or the empty triumph of schadenfreude. Anaesthetising with wishful thinking, comfort in the notion of fate, karma, a grand plan or a final day of judgment. Or the belief that people get what they deserve in the end.
Life’s not fair. But it is great. You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you get. Some good, some bad. If we were given the possibility to see the future, we’d all say no. We love hoping for the happy ending more than the happy ending itself.
Philosopher Alain de Botton wrote a great article where he throws around the idea of a religion without a God.
His take is that obviously there’s no imaginary friend in the sky who does magic tricks when no one’s watching. But that doesn’t detract from human beings’ desire for many of the trappings of religion. He floats experiencing community, reflection, rituals, and a sense of perspective and awe through art, philosophy, architecture, music, meditation and science, without the homophobia, misogyny, racism, discrimination, self-delusion and divisiveness innate in all religions. Yeah, you heard me – all religions.
De Botton speaks of ”the unthinking cruelty discreetly coiled within the magnanimous secular assurance that everyone can discover happiness … in denying the natural place reserved for longing and incompleteness in the human lot, our modern secular ideology denies us the possibility of collective consolation for our fractious marriages and our unexploited ambitions … A secular religion would build temples, and anoint feast days, to disappointment.”
Which crystallises my own long-held desire to erect a shrine to disappointment. Didn’t get that job, she doesn’t love you the way you want her to, he never called? Get down to the shrine of disappointment, take a seat, light a candle and feel ripped off, pissed off and disappointed. Sister prettier than you, your parents are losers, your life is not what you’d hoped for? No, it’s not fair. Pull up a pew with the rest of us and suck it up. I’m a pathological optimist. Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Actually it’s overflowing with red velvety perfumed roses that, when you place them on your tongue, dissolve into the most intoxicating, spine-tingling, luscious dark chocolate filled with butterflies.
My first thought, on the news that a friend’s partner died, was: ”Think of all that room you’ll have in your wardrobe!” On the death of my own beloved dog nine years ago: ”At least I don’t have to worry about him dying any more.” On finding out I had cancer: ”Well, this will be good for my writing.”
As a pathological optimist, dealing with disappointment is devastating. I wake with a hole in my heart as big as Tasmania. I believe there’s is a lid for every jar. Usually I find one. When disappointment corrodes my hopes and dreams I’m forced to conclude the jar is a vase.
I read some graffiti the other day: ”Expectation is resentment waiting to happen.” It made me wonder whether hope is just disappointment waiting to happen. But then I realised it was vice-versa – disappointment is hope waiting to happen.
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