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.”