Friday, March 4, 2011

As It Is

“Expectations destroy our peace of mind, don’t they? They’re future disappointments planned out in advance.” –from A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George

I remember when someone first mentioned the word autism in assessing my son. A few days later, as I was still trying to take that in, terrified about what it meant for my son and what it meant for me, feeling disoriented and desperate and in denial, a friend’s mother asked me, “So how do you feel about the fact that James won’t be going to Harvard?”

All these years later, I still marvel at her insensitivity. But that is not the point here. The point is that I did have expectations, perhaps not of Harvard, but of what life would be like for my son, what life would be like for me as his mother.
I did not relinquish those expectations without a fight. I fought for years. I fought for the hopes and dreams and fantasies I was so attached to that I couldn’t imagine what life would be like if I gave them up. I fought so hard to get away from what was real, that I caused a lot of unnecessary pain – to myself, to James, and to others.

On the outside, I was being a good advocate for James. I tried every possible therapy, took advantage of every special ed service, consulted with an array of experts, and read a library full of books. But on the inside I was simply trying to escape, to escape the pain of loving my child so fiercely and so helplessly. I was trying to make reality something other than what it was. In retrospect, I think my denial and my efforts to control something I couldn’t control caused me more suffering that the autism itself.

Expectations are not really bad. We do hope for things and anticipate things. We make goals and we strive to attain them. We expect certain outcomes to result from certain efforts. And when our expectations are disappointed, we are sad.

But then sometimes we increase and prolong our suffering because of our attachment to our expectations, our unwillingness to acknowledge that things did not turn out the way we wanted, our quickness to blame someone or something, our refusal to grieve and move on.

This year, I had expectations. I had plans and hopes and dreams and fantasies, all of which brought me considerable delight in anticipation. And then, in the blink of an eye, things changed. But this time I was better prepared. My first reaction was to remind myself that I didn’t know if this new direction was good or bad. My second reaction was to realize that it was neither. It simply was.

It is as it is
And as it is
Is as it should be

I went up to my cabin last weekend. I wrote a list of all my expectations that are now not going to happen. I described them in all the glowing perfection that only fantasies can have. And then I placed the paper in the fire and blessed them as they went up in smoke. I let them go. And turned to face a new beginning.

So when you feel all the endings coming ... begin looking for all the beginnings. –Ann Voskamp


  1. I love your opening quote. I would like to repost it.

  2. I was here earlier but I went back and started reading your other posts. I had a guru many years ago. The one thing I remember is, "Expectations Make Frustrations."
    Love and Peace

  3. Hi Galen,

    Your story reminds me of the movie Love and Other Drugs. Anne Hathaway's character suffers from Pakinson's. And after Jake Gyllenhaal's character falls in love with her, he tries to find a cure thinking it is his way of showing his love. There is no cure and Anne calls his bluff. In the end, Jake accepts her fully and they live with her condition.

    I love how you learned to accept life and manage as best as you can. Not many could have done what you did. And despite the price you had to pay for your wisdom, look where it has brought you today and how great your capacity to manage has become. You candor and experiences is really inspiring! :)

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  4. It's funny in my grown up world now, I don't find time for people any more that say heartless and cruel was the Harvard statement. I used to want to better things for those lost souls, now I feel that they are just inadequent in their life and they feel the need to bring me down.....there are more things worthy of our time...and your thoughtful and wise blog is showing and bring forth more and better ways for me to be every day! Thanks....I too need some time away up at the cabin, no wait that would be too cold...some where off in a sunny location! Have a blessed weekend!

  5. Galen, this is an amazing post, one which we all could use as a reminder of every now and again. Thank you for sharing a piece of yourself, you have reaffirmed that what is meant to be will be for me.

    Speaking of which, this song immediately came to mind while I was reading:

    Have a fantastic weekend and thanks again!

  6. Galen: I understand. Read your ten steps, and enjoy your weekend!

  7. Once again, words of wisdom that bring me back to a quiet understanding of myself. This post is very personal, yet is universal. You allow the reader to apply your observations, thoughts, ideas to oneself in such a meaningful way. May I add this post to my blog? I think it may help some of my quiet visitors who are going through their own version of this.
    You are remarkable.

  8. This is excellent! It has put something into perspective for me. Food for thought now.

    You could almost say "the grass isn't always greener on the other side."

    I could apply this to MANY events in my life.

    I've tried to take things day by day and not look far into the future, for fear that the expectations will be a disappointment if things don't pan out the way they should.

    I hope your new beginnings are positive and happy! Life can throw a U turn at you now and then.

  9. I don't think there is anything wrong in having expectations, hope is what keeps us alive sometimes. While all our expecations may not be met, we should always hope for a better tommorow, because what our our expecattions can not attain, our faith can!

  10. Thank you for this post Galen. There is a lovely children's book by Avi called the End of the Beginning. It is the story of Edward and Avon, a snail and an ant. They set off to find adventure -- to see the world. The reality (if I may be be so bold as to use that silly word) is that all they end of doing is going out to end of the branch and back -- but this journey set in place an adventure which we all participate in every day -- to be the best person that we can be, with as much love, compassion, energy, and hope as possible. Maybe that's what counts....

  11. Katy--Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I would be very pleased for you to put a link to my post on your blog.

  12. Manzanita--That is a very succinct statement of what I was trying to say. Thank you!

    Irving--Thank you for your encouraging comment, as always. I never saw that movie--I will check it out.

    Karen--I, too, pay less attention to people like that as I get older. As for the cabin, it is definitely not warm and sunny! (Just got back from going up there for the day)

    darlin--Thanks for the comment and the song!

    JJ--Having read your book, I'm sure you do understand! Thank you.

    ryoko--Yes, life can do that. Trying not to tell myself the negative stories helps me avoid that greener grass envy. Thank you for your comment.

    Toyin--I agree that expectations are not bad. For me, they become a problem when I get too attached to my expectations, when I become rigid in the face of new directions, when I cannot let go of disappointment when they don't work out. Thank you for your perspective.

    Cathie--Yes, indeed, that is what counts. Thank you for your comment.

  13. I think I'm still in a place where I have all these expectations toward the near future, and when they don't go as I planned, I basically explode! Sometimes it got things going, but sometimes it just left me more frustrated and anxious :/ I like your post, should do the same. Spring is a good time for new beginnings!

  14. The nice thing about throwing the list in the fire, its done for now. By starting a new direction in life,you can start another whole list of goals for the year. *hugs*

  15. You my friend are so awesome...I am so glad you are one of my follower's, you have also had so much pain, and still you comfort me. Thank you so much for you lovely comment on my blog and thank you for your word's of wisdom...I feel a connection to you. And your right it is what it is. I am going to the doctor tomorrow and see if he might can help my deep depression....but most of all I will pray oh so much more.
    Thank you my dear new friend.
    Love you, Debbie

  16. Galen I read this post the other day but didn't know quite how to respond.

    What a beautifully written expose of everything it is to be human. I am a mother also and so resonate with the need to make all things right. You are however more evolved than me... I am still struggling with this one. My eldest I now understand was challenged with mild autism. But it went undiagnosed though I tried and tried as you did to find out what was wrong and fix it.

    It's not easy. Life is not easy. But I just want you to know... that you are never alone in that cabin up there in the mountains.

    Along with you are the rest of us... still trying to figure it out... still trying to accept that our lives have changed... and it's we who must think differently about how we move on.

    Thanks for this post. It was brave and true. And I so appreciate that. :-)

  17. Bz--I have done my share of exploding, that's for sure! Learning to shift before I explode has made my life much better, thank goodness!

    Bernie--I think I will let lists go for awhile and just enjoy the ride.

    Debbie--Thank you for your heartfelt comment. I do hope you can find some support and comfort. And I'm glad to be your new friend.

    Jean--And thank you for your heartfelt comment, too. Your observation about change reminds me of a poem I included in a post last year about change, written by a 12 year old girl. I'm going to find it and post it again. And thanks--it's good to know I'm not alone.

  18. My Father always said, "try everything but only stick with what works." My expectation was to discover what was blocking my child, so we could work through it and assist her is being the best she could be. At age 15, when the big wigs told me I was right about the descriptions I was telling them and they slowed her down with medication - the Ed. specialist was able to locate the lesion in her brain in the pre-frontal cortex in the area related to long term memory....treat it like a stroke, put everything in 3 different ways and now she is through college.

    Of course, there had to be a great deal of name calling directed at me....before I could find someone to listen. She is now also off her drugs and through college, just got her first apartment and doing extremely well in her first job...we just need to help her find someone she trusts who can teach her about money and how to use it so that she will always have some...

    I think I not only have adrenal fatigue but maybe some PTSD
    This is a great look at expectations and outcomes and a timely piece about all the work the self has to accomplish to be their best...and achieve the best outcomes - love and acceptance

    Thank you for sharing.

  19. If only I could remember that quote by Ann when I see the endings on the horizon, and to really believe that the beginnings might be worthwhile:

    "So when you feel all the endings coming ... begin looking for all the beginnings."

    It sure would make life a lot simpler.

  20. That is a great quote, isn't it! Remember to breathe!


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