You would think that spending large parts, and in some case all, of our lives around the same people would lead us towards having a greater understanding of each other as individuals. Of course most of us can take a look around at our families, our parents, children, siblings, life long friends and even spouses and know that this is so often not the case.
I am sure that someone better educated on the subject than I am could tell you the reasons why but I think really in the end it comes down to expectation. We have an image in our minds of who the people in our lives are or who we hope them to be and we don't often allow much room for that to change. That image often becomes fixed in a certain time and place in person's life. How many adult children lament that their parents still seem to treat them as though they are 14 (I've a friend who still gets horse themed birthday cards from her dad despite her horse obsession have ended 30 years ago) and how many spouses go through years of marriage, careers and children only to one day realize that the person they live with has become a stranger? How many children are surprised when their parents decide to hike the Appalachian trail or travel the world when they retire, having no idea that this was a desire of theirs all along?
It can be an incredibly painful feeling when those who are supposed to
love and support us the most seem to have no understanding or are even
directly dismissive of the things that feed the deepest part of our
soul. I see this so very often when it comes to those pursuing creative lives. I have many friends who are artists, musicians and performers who's parents still refer to their chosen life path as a "hobby" and ask them constantly, "When are you going to give this up and get a real job?" I have older friends who have decided that after years of career, career, career it is time to pursue novel writing, art and music only to be told by their children or spouses, "Where did this come from? Aren't you a little too old to be doing this? Is this some sort of midlife crisis thing?"
(An aside: It does not help that in our culture the arts are seen as something that is an indulgence rather than a life path. Many parents will pay a nostalgic $100 per ticket to see Madonna but gods forbid their child should choose to become a musician. There is probably some fear involved, worry that their child will suffer in some way. And maybe, as might be the case with spouses or lovers, we fear that if our partner chooses to pursue something new that it must mean they are unhappy with us; that we are not fulfilling them enough in some way and so we get defensively resentful of their new pursuits.)
I've thought a lot about expectations these past few weeks, that of others and my own. I had a dear friend injured in an accident a few weeks ago. Suddenly one of the most important people in my life was at deaths door. When you find yourself sitting in an SCU waiting room for hours on end you can't help but overhear family conversations; a girlfriend lamenting that the last words said to her boyfriend before his motorcycle crash were said in anger, a father mumbling to god that if his daughter makes it out okay he will support her in whatever she wants to do, an angry sister telling a friend how she hopes her brother's car accident will finally make him realize he needs stop pursuing musical pipe dreams, and a woman who was so grateful that her friend, who had a stroke and was not likely to recover, was someone who always pursued her dreams and had a rich life.
For me, sitting there, waiting for word on how my friend was doing, whether or not he was going to live or die, my thoughts at first were simply that I wanted him to live and be physically ok. As the days passed, his condition stabilized and it became known that he was likely to make a full recovery, my hope became that he would
come through this trauma a whole person, and come back to himself again. Being in that space, immersed in my own worries and fears, listening to what was going on around me, ruminating on my various relationships with family and friends, I think I came to understand what it means to love someone enough to let go of all those expectations and to want nothing more for them than their own happiness, in whatever form that takes for them. That, in the end, was all I wanted for him.
It would be nice if these revelations could happen without massive upheaval or trauma. It is easy to have our eyes and hearts opened by the prospect of loss, but keeping the lesson can be difficult. I am sure that in the coming weeks, months and years, I will have moments where my own expectations of a person will get in the way, and I hope I am able to reach inside and remember this moment, this lesson, and let go.