Pam and I are hosting a party tonight—for about 80 people. Since our house will not hold 80 people (even standing up), Pam suggested we let people “spill out onto the deck.” A fine idea except that the deck chairs are appallingly hideous. We got them (garage sale) over twenty years ago and the chair bottoms have never been recovered, though they have been torn and getting sketchier every year. The last time I saw people heading for my deck I hid the two worst chairs in the garage. Now they are all four worst. I have no choice.
How hard can it be to recover a chair bottom? You wrap some fabric around a wooden square and staple it nice and taut. Period.
All the chair bottoms were rotted, so yesterday my friend Dave cut me four new bottoms from some wood he had in his garage. I didn’t even have to go to Home Depot. This is a cinch. I went to the fabric store in town and bought waterproof marine fabric—the kind they use on boats. That and four pieces of foam for padding. I was fairly chuckling. I had everything I needed for tomorrow. Let me at that staple gun!
By now you know where this is going. It’s a “simple” project that turns demonic. It took me four hours to cover the chair bottoms, which is probably about right. It’s just that I was utterly convinced at 8:30 this morning that it couldn’t possibly take more than an hour. Two of the wooden bottoms were just slightly too long. I had to take them back to Dave, have him shave them down. OK, I thought, now we’ll sail through this. Then I could not cut the two-inch foam padding without hacking it horribly. My first attempt at “wrapping” the fabric around the padded board looked like a small child had wrapped his first Christmas present. Had to rip it out and start over. I had been at this for two hours and had not even done one chair yet. I started talking to myself, cursing inanimate tools. I stalked into the house and complained to Pam that this would be much easier if two people got involved. I harrumphed back out to the garage where my staple gun jammed. And so on.
In Twelve-Step argot they say, “An expectation is a resentment waiting to happen.” Somewhere about hour three this saying started quoting itself in my head. The problem was not with the wood and the foam and the fabric lying all around me, not with the Exacto knife, the staple gun. The problem was me. I had a positive expectation that, after one hour, became a growing resentment.
This is the simple key to greater happiness, the joy of the soul. Lower your expectations. Keep them there. Don’t expect things to go smoothly. They don’t. Mature adults know this. Learn to stop expecting other people to be what you need them to be, to make you happy. Learn to be less willful and more willing. Willing to surrender your demands so that you can surrender to what is There, in the midst of mess, is where we always find God. And somehow God makes it all right, OK, sometimes even beautiful.
Four hours after opening my toolbox I was settling four puffy, handsome chair bottoms into the seats of our suddenly striking deck chairs. And I was relatively happy. I could have spared myself hours of anguish had I only remembered the wisdom of Margaret Mitchell in Gone with the Wind. “Life is under no obligation to give us what we expect.”
Great post, David. This is the word I’m getting lately: try not to engineer the outcome.
On Wednesday night, at Bible study at the church Dad goes to, the teacher said, In the new testament there are no bi-lateral, if-then, covenants. Used to be God would say, If you do this I’ll do this. That’s not the plan now. We are asked to come without expectations, without promises, “hoping for nothing.” That was the word I needed to hear and then, this morning, here it is again. Thanks for your honest, self-effacing humor–illustrating these foundational truths. And here’s another thing: thanks for fixing the chairs. In our disposal culture, repairing stuff is a responsible act, and act of love for the planet.
Marillyn D says
David: Thank you for the reminder…I will continue to work on being a mature adult! Good luck and have fun with the party.
Pattie Campbell says
Important lesson learned in the covering of patio chairs. Applicable to many circumstances. Great post! Now get in the house and help Pam with the cooking!
You’ve got me laughing. Touche.
Blake Robinson says
great stuff, David! you’ll love blogging. it is terrific to have people read and commnent on a post, but I also find a lot of satisfaction in just the writing (well, and, for me posting images too). I blog partly for myself. Enjoy! Blake
Arden Broecking says
Bravo,and also for harboring 80 happy guests.
I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in my insane swearing at inanimate objects. I once read a wonderful piece in the NYTimesSunday magazine that posited the premise that inanaimate objects in fact conspire to enrage mortals.
Glad you’re back.
Mark Glidden says
As I was thinking about all the people I could share this withthand how grateful they would be that I took the time to do so, I stopped and thought perhaps I should re read it. :). I will share it but will alter my expectations. Thanks for sharing David. Always love your messages.
Jeanette Hooman says
Thank you for your post. We are trying to sell our home for nine months. I thought it would sell quickly, my expectations has given me much anxiety. I’m so not in charge. God is!
Lida Ward says
So glad to learn of your blog, David. I loved this entry. Tim and I recovered our dining room chairs when we were newly married, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. Ours we found at a consignment shop, and we were determined to make them look like new even though they basically gave them away. I remember the frustration we had when the fabric wasn’t pulled as taut as it needed to be or the foam looked uneven. But I also remember it was a fun project that we could tackle together (even if Tim didn’t let me use the staple gun).
Thanks for reminding me of the lessons we learned that day – a young couple full of expectations learning to enjoy the journey together – frustrations, imperfections and all. Not to mention the satisfaction a little elbow grease can provide. I have been meaning to recover the chairs again…when we do, good to know we can call on you to help :)!!
Helen Montgomery says
The good part of getting old is that I don’t have to paint walls and/or recover anything except for myself, which needs painting AND RECOVERING!
LOVE YOUR BLOG, IT’S ABOUT TIME. DID YOU GET MY BIRTHDAY MESSAGE?
Somehow that caps lock always seems to want to get into the act. XXX to all, Helen
Irma Fralic says
Nice…. Expectation is our greatest nemesis.
Cindy Scam says
hmmmm….I think I know this friend of yours, Dave….great message and great blog.
Helen Montgomery says
How can I get my name off this reply????