Great Expectations

December 9th, 2012

Sometimes life gets out of control, as if to remind you to let go of the reins a little and go along for the ride. That’s what happened when my son and I traveled home from New York City a while back. A standard two-hour direct flight turned into a hilarious seventeen-hour plane, train and automobile adventure. At one point we found ourselves wedged in the backseat of a van between a couple of Notre Dame linebackers.We got the giggles. It was three a.m, we were exhausted, and the whole situation had become so absurd we just had to laugh. Once we gave up our plans, and dropped the expectations of how the trip would work out, we could actually enjoy the bazaar twists and turns, and to this day we laugh about it.

Steve Martin, who played Neale Page in the cult classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles, once said, “Chaos in the midst of chaos isn’t funny, but chaos in the midst of order is.” It’s all about perspective. The road trip was funny because we had expected smooth sailing. Chaos surprised us at every turn, and we had a choice; become frustrated or see it as an adventure. We chose to see the whole thing as a comedy of errors that we could laugh about for years to come.

We were reminded that every journey is full of surprises, and it’s all part of the process. A car gets you to the airport. A plane gets you to the city. A bus gets you to the cab that gets you back to the car that gets you to the destination. Each is an important step on an ever-evolving journey. Life is amazingly connected, even when it takes you in infuriating circles, and there are very few rights and wrongs on the journey called life.

Jonathon Lockwood Huie said,  “A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect.”

One of the most famous scenes from Planes, Trains and Automobiles has John Candy driving on the wrong side of the highway. The driver of an approaching car screams at them. Steven Martin says, “He says we’re going the wrong way.” John Candy says, “Oh, he’s drunk. How would he know where we’re going?”

I’m not encouraging anyone to drink drive, nor drive on the wrong side of the road. But when life takes you on a trip you weren’t planning, let go of the reins and accept that it may be the exact trip you need to take. Don’t waste energy worrying about right or wrong ways. Smile when your well-laid plans are rerouted by new developments. Let go of your expectations, face up to the new direction, and see it for the adventure it is.

Expectations are like a stick scraping on a metal fence. They disturb the stillness with stories about what needs to happen or what a disaster it will be if something doesn’t happen. When you hear the scraping stick, smile and say to yourself, “There go those crazy expectations again. They are so predictable.” Love them for what they are, but don’t buy into their drama.

The moral of the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles was that the goofy John Candy was more at peace with himself than the conventional but uptight Steve Martin. He slept better at night (with his hand between two pillows :) ) and taught Steve Martin to roll with the punches. In the end, Steve Martin was drawn to the peace that John Candy enjoyed. He learned the same thing I learned from my son–stay awake to the adventure of being alive. This is the path to peace.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said,  “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

This is one of the ways you can practice inner peace. Break a routine, eat breakfast for dinner, wear odd socks, speak up for yourself, allow the silence, start a business, sell your house……

Learn from experience that you can stay focused and still in the midst of the unknown. This is peace.

Drop the expectations of smooth sailing, leave the judgments behind and stay flexible. Do your best in each moment. Find peace in change, for life will continue to move forward with or without you. If you need to miss a step, just pick up with the next beat. Be flexible and flow with the bends in the road.

Know that everything is in perfect order, whether you understand it or not.

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