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Great Expectations When the Fat Lady Sings

Fernando Botero

This weekend my girlfriends and I saw The Very Best Marigold Hotel, a charming film full of characters with whom we can all identify. I loved this movie. I laughed and smiled throughout the whole film, only to break into tears as I left the theater. The film reminded me that our hopes and expectations don’t always happen the way we plan them, and that it’s not always over when the fat lady sings.

The Very Best Marigold Hotel dovetailed with a blog I read recently that suggested we should lower our expectations to keep ourselves from being disappointed. Had the characters in The Very Best Marigold Hotel loosened the reigns on their expectations, perhaps some of them wouldn’t have been disappointed in the hotel or with their lives. In reality, I disagree with the concept of lowered expectations. When we lower our expectations, it affects the way we see ourselves, and in turn, how others see us and how we allow them to treat us. If, however, we can’t maintain high expectations, what if instead of lowering them, our expectations are neither good nor bad, but we give them the freedom to be whatever they’re going to be? What if we live in the dictionary definition of “to wait in expectation” like a couple who are “expecting” a baby and who don’t want to know the sex until it’s born? They’re expecting the event, not the outcome.

All of us encounter dozens of expectations everyday. They are the short paragraphs of life. To lower our expectations is to sentence ourselves to a life that’s missing the highs and lows, the very experiences that make life rich and rewarding. Our challenge is not just to cope with the short and unexpected paragraphs of life, but to string them together until we and our story thrives.

Life is relentless, the way it goes on, expecting us to jump back on board after health problems, job loss, divorce and death. While most of us can get back on track, staying there with cheerful purpose and intent is the hard part. In the beginning, our painful attempts are nothing more than aimless stabs in the dark to regain our zest for life, to establish new rhythms and pathways. In the beginning, most of us don’t do it authentically and wholeheartedly. Instead, we do just enough to convince ourselves and those around us that we’re trying, and that once again, we’ll be alright.

In The Very Best Marigold Hotel, Maggie Smith’s character asks Judy Dench, “What are you going to do now?”

“I’m not sure what I shall do,” Judy’s character says. “Nothing’s worked out quite as I expected.”

Maggie Smith pauses and then smiles and says, “Most things don’t, but sometimes, what happens instead is the good stuff.”

Where we are in life is as much imposed on us by circumstances out of our control as by our willingness to overcome them. As the manager of the Very Best Marigold Hotel says, “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, it’s not yet the end.” Perhaps that’s another way of saying it’s not over, even when the fat lady sings. There’s another act yet to come, and our job is to find the good stuff.