Sunday, January 18, 2009

Christmas in January?

When I was young I got very excited at Christmas time. I remember that some years I could hardly sleep Christmas Eve and I would lie awake all night, impatiently waiting until it was late enough in the morning to rush to the tree and open my presents. Generally I got a good portion of what I had asked for, but it was still exciting to rip open the packages and fondle the toys I had been yearning for and building up in my mind as the greatest things since pizza.

A few hours after this initial emotional high, though, the whole thing lost its luster – the toys weren’t as wonderful I had believed they would be, and they generally didn’t perform as well as they had in the advertisements (or maybe in my interpretation of the advertisements). My excitement turned to a vague disappointment and disillusionment – wasn’t there supposed to be more to it than this??

Of course, I now realize I was right – Christmas wasn’t about the toys, it is about the spirit of the season and the joy of being with family and friends. The only trouble is, the expectation of warm and fuzzy family get-togethers often leads to disappointment. In my own experience, and in my observations of other people’s experience, the reality turns out far less wonderful than we want.

The difficulty, I think, is that we expect far more than can be delivered, and we are bound to be disappointed with the real situation or else we have to delude ourselves mightily to maintain the belief that we have attained our wish. A realistic expectation need not be negativistic – just an appreciation for the factors that may limit the degree to which our expectations can be met.

I wonder if the upcoming inauguration isn’t akin to Christmas in January for many people. Such great hopes and expectations have been placed on Obama that it will be almost impossible to meet them. Just like Christmas, the constraints of reality will make it unlikely he can truly fulfill these expectations. Perhaps it would be better to be open to a range of outcomes and to realize that he isn’t a Christmas present. It might make us more likely to appreciate his actual achievements and accomplishments, which are likely to be considerable, even if they aren’t miraculous.

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