When great expectations meet reality
“Coffee has given me unrealistic expectations of productivity.” ~ Anonymous
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an expectation is “A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.”
A synonym of expectation, presupposition, was why the Titanic went down. Be aware of the difference between an expectation and certainty. Even certainty should be eyed with a modicum of skepticism, depending upon its source.
We all make and are subject to expectations throughout our lives. We have expectations of our children, and they, us. There are implicit expectations in marriage, and if we are religious, expectation and faith become intertwined.
Expectations play a huge role in our lives. When we go to a doctor, we expect the best care available. When we vote for a particular candidate, we “expect” them to fulfill their promises.
Teachers, tax preparers, clergy, attorneys, meteorologists, and even chefs; we don’t just pin our hopes on these people. We maintain certain hard and fast expectations of them.
As much as we practice placing expectations, we also know they sometimes fail to materialize. When this happens, we feel disappointed and let down.
We’ll begin this column about expectations, grand or modest, reasonable or not, with a story I first heard several decades ago. Even better, we’ll let the person who told me this story do so in his own words.
Bruce Burgin has been a friend for close to 50 years. I know him to be a good storyteller and a photographer extraordinaire. What follows is a unique and unanticipated experience of a young man serving in the U.S. Navy.
Bruce demonstrates, with humor, how we can create unrealistic expectations based upon inaccurate information coupled with our own imagination.
After all, how often are we invited to a private audience with the Pope?
“In the summer of 1971, I was on an all-expense-paid tour of the Mediterranean Sea, compliments of the US Navy. I was a Photographers Mate Second Class aboard an aircraft carrier.
My previous tour aboard this ship was to Vietnam. Needless to say, this six-month cruise through the Mediterranean Sea was a welcome vacation.
“One day I got a summons to see the officer in charge of the photography lab where I worked. When I arrived in his office, the ship’s Catholic priest was there. I found out he had been invited to a private audience with the Pope. And he wanted me to accompany him to document the rare occasion with photographs.
“The fact that I was raised as a Baptist didn’t matter to the priest. He asked for the best photographer and chose me. I was honored not only to attend a private audience with the Pope but that our ship’s priest held me in such high esteem as to invite me.
“The trip was several days away, so I had plenty of time to get nervous. I thought that such honors only happened to dignitaries and world leaders, not Navy photographers.
“We wouldn’t be going to Rome, but to the Pope’s summer residence. The priest told me when to arrive at his chapel. Then, I promptly headed back to the photo lab to tell the other guys and get my camera equipment ready.
“The Catholic guys were instructing me on how to act around the Pope. They said I should kiss his ring. In my mind, I visualized the Pope, the priest, and me sitting around his pool, sipping wine, and discussing international events.
“The big day came, and I took my camera equipment to the priest’s office as instructed. I was shocked to see about fifty other sailors there when I arrived. I asked the priest what they were doing there. He told me that they were also invited to the audience.
“My concept of “private” and theirs were quite different. Now, I’m trying to visualize the Pope, the priest, me, and fifty other guys sitting around the Pope’s pool, shooting the s**t and drinking wine. The Pope must have a big pool, I thought.
“Our group of fifty-one Catholics and one lone Baptist disembarked the ship to board the bus headed for Castel Gandolfo. It was a beautiful day, and the bus ride was very nice.
“When we arrived at the Castel, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were thousands of people there. There were more buses than I could have ever imagined. It was a carnival atmosphere with vendors selling souvenirs and the Swiss Guards dressed in colorful uniforms.
“We were directed into a giant open room that held a thousand people. The papal choir sang “When the Saints Go Marching in” in many different languages. A carpeted aisle ran down the center of the room, leading to an altar.
“I got as close to the aisle as possible and stood on top of my camera case. When the Pope arrived, sitting in a chair carried on the shoulders of a dozen men, the crowd went wild.
“When the Pope got to where I was standing on my camera case, the crowd almost knocked me over. Fortunately, I was able to take several good photographs.
“I was disappointed that I didn’t get to hang out with the Pope as I anticipated. But, I was impressed with the magnificence of the entire event, and I can still remember every detail of that beautiful experience.”
“Man plans, and God laughs.” ~ Yiddish adage
Pip, the orphaned boy in Dicken’s classic “Great Expectations,” eventually realized his rise from poverty to respectability, education and comfort – but not without costs. Pip understood that his gain came at a price.
He had abandoned his sense of morality and fidelity to those who cared about him. He would suffer from this awareness.
Perhaps, we should consider if the means always justify the ends. What are we willing to sacrifice to meet our own expectations?
Through retrospection, we often question our drive to acquire those things that we thought would bring happiness and fulfillment but didn’t.
This delayed enlightenment may seem like a gift that has arrived past its usefulness. Still, one can find value from past mistakes at any age; we call it hard-earned wisdom.
However, some finally give up on their dreams and expectations and surrender to cynicism. They are the ones who become bitter. You probably know somebody who has become suspicious of everything and everyone.
After all, it is the youth with the greatest propensity for lofty expectations; they are not yet tarnished by intervening realities. And sometimes great expectations are realized, but usually with a bit of luck and a lot of help from others.
It is the unrealistic expectations that the wise avoid. That the sun will rise tomorrow is a reasonable expectation; that you will win the lottery is not.
Where hope is inexpensive, expectations can have a handsome price tag.
So, what happens when you put everything on the line, even your life, with certain expectations in mind?
Next week we will meet a woman in dire financial straits who sought to find her way out of poverty by risking the only thing she had left of value ~ her life.
Thank you, Bruce Burgin, for sharing your “once in a lifetime” experience.