Lately, I’ve been thinking about anticipation and all its pleasures and excitement and that “I can’t wait for . . .” feeling. Expectation and hope. Cue in Adam Sandler’s recurring Saturday Night Live character from the early 90s, “Cajun Man.” He’d pronounce anticipation with a long, drawn out final syllable, the very quirk of his character: an-tissss-i-paa-shone (a hard o sound). Looking forward to something with excitement and great giddiness. It can be heightened in the lives of children; think about when you counted down the days to your birthday or the very first day of summer.
In childhood, it always felt as if I was waiting for something or counting down to an event. Those were the days we measured our years in fractions. “I’m seven and three-quarters,” was spoken emphatically as if to sum up our lives in those additional days and hours and experiences, while we waited desperately for the next year to come around. In contrast, in the last few years, I’ve largely left behind anticipation. I understand that there’s something to the idea of living in the moment, but there’s also an importance to that long-lost feeling.
Back in March, my thoughts turned to anticipation when I looked at the calendar and realized I didn’t have anything scheduled beyond work obligations for the next two months. I talked to a good friend on the phone and we commented on the fact that we hadn’t visited each other in years and it would be so fun to “see each other sometime soon.” It was an oft-repeated but empty phrase, in our long distance friendship, since our college days and our long-ago years of living in the same city. There had been a couple of visits in the middle-aughts, but time and distance and expense had limited our friendship to occasional phone calls, irregular e-mails, and sporadic Facebook interactions. Realizing I needed friendship and anticipation in my life, I called her back immediately. “What if we schedule a visit? Let’s plan a trip.” It took only a matter of minutes to settle on the dates and the destination: the first part of November for a four-day weekend in Savannah, Georgia. Neither of us had visited there, but we wanted to see it. We would get to discover a new city and replant the seeds of a dear, old friendship!
In these last few months, we’ve carefully planned our trip. I bought a plane ticket and she booked a nearby state park for us and her tent. There’s a theme to our communication, our anticipation. We share travel articles and dream about details, but mostly we look forward to being in the same town for conversations and company and the feeling that long, dear friendships give us. It’s the way to return to ourselves. She provides understanding and intimacy and familiarity and kinship.
If I were a doctor, I would prescribe anticipation as fast as my bad handwriting (perfect for a doctor) could write out the word on a small white pad. Looking forward to this visit has been as much fun as I expect the trip to be. It helps to have something to look forward to in our lives. Somewhere I read that the psychological benefits of planning a vacation are almost as great as the benefits of the actual vacation itself. In some cases, the psychological benefits (perceived happiness) are greatest right before the vacation begins.
I am no psychologist, but that makes sense to me. It resonates with my own experiences of waiting for my birthday or looking forward to Friday night. Anticipation, and making way for it, is an attempt to escape the mundane. It’s a way to add excitement. It’s a try at bringing hope into daily life. Goodness, we need more of that, don’t we? Not everyone can plan an expensive trip. My visit to Savannah will be my first out of my region in more than four years. It will be a frugal one, but it’s tempered by a dear, intimate friendship and the lovely surroundings of an old city I’ve never seen.
Can’t afford a trip? Don’t have time for a visit to a long-lost friend? My prescription is to bring anticipation into your daily existence. After these last few months, I’m planning to carry the feeling into my ordinary life, not just for the big and extraordinary. The very concept of anticipation assumes some restraint. We look forward to something because it’s limited and special. If we celebrated holidays every day, they would lose their magic and their meaning. However, we can also anticipate the small, the ordinary. Anticipation can be the very act of bringing the extra to the ordinary, becoming extraordinary.
Are there other constraints confounding you? I’ve been there. For a time, I felt pretty down and limited by my situation: finances, job, social setting, location, and other things. Sometimes it was like being in a deep hole. I realize, only now, that factoring in anticipation can be the shovel to help dig oneself out of the darkness. Some folks have dire situations and it can be hard to figure out the means to that shovel, the path to anticipation. A coffee date with a friend won’t get someone a job, but it can be something to lift the spirits. It might provide motivation to a next step.
Take a wander around the neighborhood to appreciate the last splendors of fall. Call a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Forget expenses and enjoy the pleasures of being an armchair traveler. Dreading a bad day at work? Wear your favorite shirt or plan your favorite dinner and now you can look forward to something different. Build some anticipation into your calendar by planning an outing or event. Stilted by television? Ask a friend for a movie recommendation and then make a date. Don’t have any close friends in your area? Find a local group to discover new things in common with strangers. Those solutions might be simplistic, but you get the idea.
There are really three steps to anticipation. Find something you like to do and make the time to do it. And then, in the words of the athletic shoe company, “Just do it!”
Here are some ways I’ve invited anticipation into my life in the last few months, besides planning my big Savannah excursion. I pulled out the atlas and planned a small road trip. On a familiar drive, I took the lesser-traveled highway. I thought of my favorite recipe and planned a fun solo dinner for home. I looked up a well-loved writer and found she had begun a blog. I look forward to new posts each week while I wait for her next book to be published. On Wednesdays (for some reason it’s often a day I dread) when I have a little extra pocket change, I go to my favorite restaurant for a $2 breakfast burrito. I enjoy the ritual and the restaurant owner is now a casual friend. It gives me a full stomach and a happy heart.
Over the weekend, I regretted that I hadn’t written anything in a few weeks and wished for some deeper friendships with people nearby. Last night, I signed up for a local writing group and all day I looked forward to the meeting. I’m writing with those strangers right now. I hope for this to become a regular occasion and maybe these strangers will become new writing friends.
Anticipation also goes beyond the self and the self-indulgent. I’m learning to find other ways to bring in anticipation, uniting it with service and passion and direction. I’m considering a volunteer project to bring shape to my Thursday evenings, and possibly to the next couple of years. How can I bring anticipation to others? Anticipation can be the way to something new or the return to something beloved. It can be the method to reclaim a bad day or a way to replenish the spirit.
An e-mail from another old friend has led to new expectations: a December trip to Santa Fe and a visit with two good friends from high school, one of whom I haven’t seen in 20 years. The old becomes new again. There’s also some risky anticipation around the bend. I have given notice at my job and I look forward to building new pathways next May. I tentatively take new steps and repeat some old ones. I anticipate some big changes. Mostly, though, I move with intention as I take the steps. I look forward and give thanks. The self and the spirit, they unite in anticipation.