When visiting with my friend Katie recently, she recounted a story from her childhood that, much to my amazement, I had never heard before. I really thought I had heard all of the childhood highlights previously. I had heard about the ducks who got their heads frozen in the pond and the goats who ate the top of her father’s car one night and the Christmas list on which young Katie requested a $10,000 racehorse. (Kids: they say the darnedest things!) Katie is one of those friends whose stories I’ve heard a thousand times and still we delight in telling them over and over again whenever we are together. She’s one of those friends I know so well I have concluded I just might know it all.
So when Katie pulled out this new story, it really resonated with me. Katie told a story of how, as a child, her parents were planning a trip to Reno. Now, wisely assuming that Reno doesn’t have much to offer children, her parents built things up for Katie and her brother in the days and weeks leading up to the trip. Katie and her brother were told, over and over again, that when they got to Reno they were going to see a magical show, and in that show THERE WILL BE ELEPHANTS. Yes, children, there will be elephants and we know you’ve never seen elephants but the elephants are going to amaze you! As one can imagine, young Katie – a lover of animals to begin with – could not wait to meet these elephants. She became consumed with the elephants she had not met yet.
The day finally arrived, and Katie and her family checked in at their Reno hotel where the magical elephant show was going to occur. All the hopes and dreams of a wonder-filled night of prancing elephants came to a screeching halt when Katie and her parents saw a sign hanging in the lobby that read: “The elephants are gone fishin’.” Sad but true, the elephants were not available for the show – probably on a sabbatical or the subject of a union disagreement – and young Katie’s heart sank. The night she had so eagerly anticipated for weeks on end was now ruined. It turns out, a life without elephants – elephants you had never met and now you never would – was hardly a life worth living.
Of course, the show went on without the elephants, but Katie did not enjoy it. I mean really, how can you enjoy a show without elephants, when you know elephants are a possibility? Katie has surmised, in her wiser adult years, that it was probably a perfectly lovely show and she may have even enjoyed it under different circumstances. But without the elephants, the show was a lost cause for her and an utter, miserable waste of her time.
There’s a lesson to be learned there, a lesson that can provide a gentle reminder to all of us no matter how old we are. Simply put, the lesson is that we can’t bank our happiness on the elephants. Do we all want the occasional appearance of elephants in our show called life? Of course. But in order to really, really be happy – the kind of happy that has you waking up smiling and humming to every tune you hear – you must first free yourself of expectations. This is not to say you should go into life with low expectations, for that is just plain old pessimism. Rather, when you can, try to approach your life with no expectations. When you can do that, you just might find that the show with playful organ music, dancing ladies in glittery gold outfits, tightrope walkers and acrobats will fill your heart with joy. Even if the elephants are gone fishin’.
I'll sign on to the “no expectations” adage with one reservation: Reno is almost surely going to disappoint you. That's a safe expectation.