One morning in early November, I spent time buttoning up my garden shrubs for winter.
It was chilly, blustery and cloudy and I was thinking about snow. Snow no longer holds the same excitement for me as once it did. As a child in a country where snowfall was meager at best, I remember only one winter (1947) when we had about a foot of snow. I tried very hard to ski on planks of wood from our back yard fence tied on to my rubber “Wellington” boots. No luck! Later, in Switzerland and here in North America, skiing became a sport that I thoroughly enjoyed. Now, except for its beauty, protection for my garden and the future water supply, my anticipation of snow is less than enthusiastic.
As I shopped for fall-planting bulbs in October, I found that the superstores were way ahead of me. Not only had I missed the bulb sales, but Thanksgiving was on the wane and Christmas tinsel was almost in full bloom. In early October Hallowe’en pumpkins, ghosts and skeletons were out and about in abundance and, by mid-month, Main Street, St. Johnsbury was a haunted cemetery with flower gardens still in full bloom! It seems to me that anticipation is taking over the present.
This trend has been happening for a long time but, maybe at present, it is accentuated by turbulent political times and the increasing focus on the next election nearly a year away. Frankly, I would like to enjoy the next few months at less than warp speed. We miss so much of real “happening“ life when anticipation takes over.
Anticipation does have some real benefits when it is used in careful planning for future events: planning an event such as a wedding; enjoying a pregnancy and preparing for a birth; looking for a job and a place to live; managing money on all levels; searching for college; tending livestock; planting crops or even a garden. Some would say these are middle-class values and don’t apply to many people, but in fact they do, because these are fundamental events that impact societies of many kinds and on many levels.
The real issue is when anticipation veers from reality into the realms of fantasy. A classic case is the on-going scandal of some wealthy and famous families who have been scheming to get their children into prestigious colleges through cheating on test scores, bribery, and corruption; not on actual academic and athletic merits. The anticipation of bragging rights based on college names attached to their children, and the possibility for them to move in the realms of opportunity to meet the “right people” seem to outweigh the concept of their actually receiving a superior education. The damage done to these young people by their socially ambitious parents seems to me to be nothing less than social and psychological child abuse. We all have dreams about the future, our own and our children’s, but most of us realize that, though the future relates to the present in significant ways, we cannot foresee and control what will happen.
Anticipation can be exciting, especially when we take time and special effort to prepare for an expected event. I think that those preparations are probably what many of us remember from past experiences more than the actual events. Some examples might include Christmas or Hallowe’en, or other special moments in time celebrated over centuries in many parts of the northern hemisphere. Certain rich and abundant seasonal foods, or special decorative art symbols, all carefully prepared with considerable family and community effort and foresight, have played major roles in binding communities together.
As well as special foods, bonfire wood collected and carefully stacked for Guy Fawkes, Mid-Winter or Imbolc; carved and lighted turnip or pumpkin lanterns for All-Hallows Eve; corn dollies and other decorative and symbolic items made from straw and corn stalks for harvest festivals; crèche scenes and Christmas cards for Nativity and evergreens for Solstice festivals, have been special signs of the seasonal changes that northern societies have celebrated. Nowadays many of these symbols from the past have lost their original significance but are still used as signatures of a special time of year. Different traditions and celebrations are constantly arriving, brought by immigrants from other countries.
In the past people took time to prepare for seasonal events allowing the savoring of the actual celebration and the forming of lasting memories. Time and care were important because the preparation was part of the ceremony itself and it bound people together.
Some things, even today, cannot be rushed which makes us reflect more and make deeper memories. Ask anyone who has had a baby and they can recount more stories of that experience than you might want to hear. High school memories are often rich and clear probably because that is when many young people first feel liberated to do things their way. It is often the incidental happenings, humorous and otherwise, that occur when preparing for an event that makes the event itself memorable.
These types of memories show that living in the present moment is a richer experience than living in constant anticipation of either good or bad. Unfortunately, turbulent times either political, social or military, or in combination, overload our memory banks. We have no time to fully understand or appreciate one event before we are bombarded by another. It is hard to keep track or see how these events could impact our personal lives. Under these circumstances it is difficult to make rational judgments. It is easy to see how people become fearful and polarized. Politicians of all stripes and in all countries take advantage of this psychological effect and always have.
It’s winter now! No need to panic, we know what the weather will bring. Time to slow down, savor the seasons and flavors of the winter. Despite what Walmart and Walgreens say, there’s no need to rush ahead to Valentine’s Day!