I recall being about 12 years old and having my first revelation about the unknown. I remember it was Christmas Day and my immediate family would be opening the presents we had under our tree. It was usually my job (being the youngest) to identify each gift and deliver it to my parents or siblings as they all sat round the living room in their pajamas, telling stories about our Christmas Eve experience the night before at my grandparent's house.
I remember the feeling of excitement on each person's face as their respective gift pile would grow higher and higher. I found myself working quickly and comparing how many gifts I had compared to others, how big the boxes were, and if they made any noises when I jiggled them. I would look at each box in my pile and wonder if one of them was that new electronic game I wanted, or was it another pair of socks? My mind would race and imagine all the possibilities that could come out of each one of those glittery red, white and green packages.
After all the sorting was done, it was time to open. Sometimes we would go in order of age when opening. We would have to unwrap and display the gift and thank the person giving the gift. I found this to be aggravating, especially when the oldest person went first. I had to wait patiently to open mine while all the others were oohing and ahhing about the gifts they'd received.
Finally it came to be my turn. Of course, I grabbed the biggest box first and tore it open as fast as I could. As I pulled out the packing material to reveal the gift, I found a new knitted blanket from my grandmother. While this is certainly a practical gift, my 12 year old mind was hoping for a new basketball or perhaps the new Pong game console I'd been eyeing. But there I was, looking at this green, red and white blanket and I had to show my appreciation. I did my best to pull it out and say, "Wow, this is so great! I can use this when I watch TV!" All the while my insides were kicking dirt and saying something like, "Ah shucks!".
“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” – Alexander Pope
In the end, I did get a few gifts that I really desired, but I wasn't sure what to feel about the rest of them. I felt guilty that I wasn't feeling more appreciative for the gifts. And part of me wondered what was wrong with me. I wondered why I was being so greedy and sad, when only moments before, the excitement was almost overwhelming. Then it came to me. I was more excited about the unknown, or the possibilities of what could be inside the package. Once the package was opened, there was no more room for my imagination. There was only the stark reality that I was now the proud owner of a knitted blanket, or whatever else was found.
It was this realization that changed the course of the rest of my life. I now understood that my own imagination was far more exciting than the three-dimensional reality of the actual item inside the box.
It was after this that I changed my tactics around the unknown inside the box. I spent more time imagining all the possible items it could be based on the size of the box, but not attaching any expectation that could be disappointed once the truth was revealed.
I remember making several people annoyed at me in my adult years when a package would arrive for me at my home and I would just let it sit there on the table as I went about my business. My wife or kids would give me a hard time by asking, "Why aren't you opening the box?" or "Dad, how can you just let it sit there and not open it!?". I would revel in the anticipation of all the possible things it could be.
Even if I was expecting an item I've ordered, and "knew" what should be in the box, I told myself, "What if it isn't? Maybe it is something else, or maybe someone sent me something unexpected!". Still to this day, I hold out as long as I can before having to finally open the box.
As I'm writing this, I'm curious about applying this same tactic to all the other unknowns in my life. Like the unknown of the kind of weather we are going to have for our family reunion. Or, the unknown of having enough time to make the gate at the terminal to get on my plane. All of these kind of unknowns can cause stress in our lives, and it certainly has in mine.
"When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us." - Alexander Graham Bell
What if we shifted our perspective to allow for the unknown to bring something even better into our lives if we release the attachment to specific outcomes? Perhaps the perception of an opportunity lost could be flipped into anticipation for something that might be even better.
I am challenging you to try this out for a few days. Each time you make plans for something, decide that while you look forward to its expected outcome, you also decide to accept and see the other possibilities that might happen as even better. I've come to adopt this sort of thinking when I'm driving in traffic and missed my exit. I immediately wonder what sort of mishap I've avoided by not going that way today? Or, if I'm on vacation and the weather is bad, what other opportunities show up that would fulfill me even more?
Its' now 45 years later, and I still have the knitted green, red and white blanket my grandmother made me. It now keeps me warm when I watch TV in our cooler downstairs living room. If I had gotten that basketball or Pong game, those things would have been lost or broken many decades ago. I appreciate the gift that I have from my grandmother. Especially since she has passed on, and this is one of the things I have to remember her by.
Enjoy the unknown my friends. You may be pleasantly surprised at what awaits you.
- Dwight J. Raatz: Personal Coach, Author, Healer | email@example.com