One year it was biscuits. One year it was list-making. The objects of my Lenten fasts have ranged from the concrete and indulgent to the intangible and neurotic. On Ash Wednesday, just hours before my forehead accepted a sooty cross, I decided that this year I would give up expectations.
Confession: the decision was made with more than a little jaw clinching, maybe just a bit of cynicism, and, most certainly, with the sense of resignation that always accompanies what we now call compassion fatigue. Further confession: the decision may not have been so much made as thrust upon me. Often in the weeks and months leading up to that brisk February evening I’d felt the sting of disappointment and I no longer had the desire or the strength to carry the weight of frustration.
I walked away from the altar, the sound of my heels echoing off the walls like a chisel on stone, knowing well what I had invited into my life – the opportunity to deliberately confront the way I think things ought to be, illuminated and then crushed by the way they really are. I walked away, the sound of the minister’s voice already fading, thinking that it would not be all that hard. Not nearly as difficult as, say, giving up biscuits. Denying myself a hot handful of buttery bread every single morning had to be tougher than acknowledging the unavoidable truth that people will fail you.
I was right. I refrained from rolling my eyes when the car in front of me turned without signaling. I held my tongue when my restaurant order was wrong. I decided that I didn’t absolutely have to have a receipt from the car wash. Piece of cake.
Until last Saturday. Last Saturday I had this party to celebrate the publication of my second book. I planned carefully. I cleaned and decorated and borrowed tables and chairs. Aunt Linda and my new Uncle James filled the tables with more food than could be eaten. There was a table of twelve different cakes. The sky was high and blue, the breeze was light and sweet. The yard at Sandhill was full of people I love. It was perfect.
Except for one thing. I had thought I would have time to visit with all of those people I love, have real conversations and tell them why it was important to me that they were there and a part of the celebration. I had assumed that all my orchestrations would result in flawless execution and those conversations would be organic and unhurried. I had taken for granted that everything would go according to plan. I had expectations.
And some of those expectations were not met. I didn’t get to hold my newest little cousin Abby. I didn’t get a photo of me and my friends Melissa and Anton who came from Columbus. I didn’t get to taste all the cakes.
When everybody had gone home and I was swaddling the leftovers in Saran Wrap, acutely aware of Sandhill’s ordinary silence in the aftermath of so much laughter and storytelling, I couldn’t help wondering if there was another side to my Lenten fast. I’d been so intent on letting go of what I expected of other people that I’d missed out on my need to let go of what I expected of myself.
If I could ignore the man who didn’t signal, if I could scrape the guacamole off my sandwich, if I could scribble down the car wash cost on a napkin, couldn’t I just look forward to holding Abby at Easter, smile at the photo someone took of Melissa and Anton with Daddy, eat cake now? Couldn’t I be delighted at the things that I didn’t plan, couldn’t have planned, that just happened? Sarah and Aaron, two mid-western transplants, finding they have mutual friends in Cincinnati, of all places. Little Ella and her parents walking down the dirt road as the sun set. And me standing at the kitchen window looking out over the now empty yard with a heart that is anything but.
It is still a week until Easter. Still time for more expectations to be released. Still time for the fasting that always ends in a feast.