I was feeling pretty religious
standing on the bridge in my winter coat
looking down at the gray water:
the sharp little waves dusted with snow,
fish in their tin armor.
That`s what I like about disappointment:
the way it slows you down,
when the querulous insistent chatter of desire
goes dead calm
and the minor roadside flowers
pronounce their quiet colors,
and the red dirt of the hillside glows.
She played the flute, he played the fiddle
and the moon came up over the barn.
Then he didn’t get the job, —
or her father died before she told him
that one, most important thing—
and everything got still.
It was February or October
It was July
I remember it so clear
You don`t have to pursue anything ever again
You just have to stand there
looking out on the water
in your trench coat of solitude
with your scarf of resignation
lifting in the wind.
-Tony Hoagland, from What Narcissism Means to Me (Graywolf Press)
I love this poem. You have to just stand there. That`s just it, isn’t it? There`s nothing you can do with disappointment, but just stand there. Stand in the middle of it, watch it go by, over, around you, with only resignation to buffer its effects.
I’ve been thinking about disappointment a bit lately. I am often disappointed – in myself, in other people, in the way things turn out in life. Who isn’t? Right or wrong, we all have expectations and hopes. I try not to have those expectations, but some small part of my brain, or heart, or left calf muscle, harbors secret ambitions – secret even to me, until the querulous insistent chatter of desire goes dead calm.
Disappointment fills in the space between What Is and What Could Be. I love What Could Be. I want to live there. My spirit does live there, or at least spends most of its time there. My spirit believes that everything is possible, and soars at the prospect of my potential, the potential of human beings, and this earth, and the mysteries beyond this earth.
But I’m always brought back to What Is, and all I can do is just stand there. Who I Am, Who Other People Are, The Way the World Works Now…What Is. That’s all there there is, really. All the rest or it lives only in my head. Just a dream. Not real. Not here. What Isn’t. And Won’t Be.
But that’s the danger of disappointment–the excuse it gives you, the scarf of resignation–to give up, never to pursue anything ever again. What’s the point? I’m always tempted to wrap myself up in that scarf and just say, “No more.” Standing here on the bridge, I think, why not just give it up?
And the answer echoes off the water: Because that’s not how it works. Life is hard. People are hard, growing is hard, keeping going is hard. But there’s so much more: beauty and love and joy and music and poetry. And sometimes I am who I need to be, and the world is what it seems to be. It’s all mixed up; disappointment and joy, pain and love.
What Is is What Is Now, and What Could Be may be What Is someday. We don’t know. I don’t know. It’s that not knowing that is the other side of disappointment; the other side of resignation.
In the space between; that’s where we live.