My father-in-law lived to be 97, and one of the reasons I attribute to his doing so was he always was anticipating something positive that was going to happen in his life. When he was younger it was a planned trip; as he aged he looked forward to visiting us, or being visited; he often enjoyed the anticipation of asking a provocative question he was pondering at the dinner table about something he just read; or he just anticipated the everyday events like the next ball game on T.V. The river of his life thus kept flowing, and I came to admire his use of anticipation as a positive model in my life.
This week I am also on a high level of personal anticipation. In addition to the excitement and anticipation of the burgeoning spring bloom and the warmth of additional sunlight and warmth, our 3 and 7 year old grandchildren and their parents arrive tomorrow for a long Covid-delayed visit to our home, and then I am scheduled for a hip replacement in early May. Lots to anticipate for sure!
I like the basic definition of anticipation as “the normal process of imaginative speculation about the future.” In positive terms, living with anticipation is energizing and hopeful. Anticipation can also create anxiety and worry when we anticipate an unpleasant event in our lives, of course. But no matter the challenges in one’s life, as my father-in-law demonstrated, even as he aged and dealt with a number of health issues, life flows better when we learn to create and anticipate the next positive event or opportunity before us, something that provides a spiritual boost and a tangible hope.
And I think this may be equally true for our families, organizations and communities as well. We need to provide ourselves with positive, anticipatory “imaginative speculations“ about our futures, something to keep our spirits alive and hopeful. It is often a temptation to settle for complacency, especially when life becomes as complex and daunting as we have experienced of late.
So it is important to foster an attitude of positive anticipation to counter the weariness of life. Writer and ecologist Larry Rasmussen* advises us to counter the anxieties and uncertainties of these days with positive models, what he “anticipatory communities.” "Anticipatory communities,” he writes, “are home places where it is possible to re-imagine worlds and reorder possibilities for a better way of life.” Where are the “anticipatory communities in your life?” Where are your “home places” that help you anticipate more positive outcomes in your life and those around you? My Quaker community, for example, offers me a basic orientation to anticipate and envision nonviolent alternatives to the current economic and moral crises we face as a society. Orienting our community around a common set of ethical principles** helps us create not just an “imaginative speculation” about the future, but directs us to live with clarity and conviction into it as a community.
One of my consistent Saturday Evening Post themes during the past three years has been to try to name and integrate the dramatic societal and cultural changes that life has forced upon us. It has been difficult to maintain a positive anticipation about what may evolve from all the chaos we have endured these past several years. It has often felt like we were swept up by the Covid pandemic, our struggles with the survival of the planet, the threat to democracy itself, and the reckoning of exploitation of the earth and many of its inhabitants that is unsustainable. But naming the challenges alone is only an important first step. What we must do is create alternative visions and social structures that address the problems we face. We need the “anticipatory communities” Rasmussen envisions to hold our hopes and dreams for those grandchildren like ours that arrive at our home this weekend.
In spite of the confusing times we face, I am also daily aware of how often I am filled with encouragement and hope by those who exercise their capacity for personal honesty and creativity and help us anticipate the birth of a new order that we can not yet imagine. I see, for example, the increased success against gun violence through the voices of our young people and flashes of courageous passion and integrity in our political system as happened with Justin Pearson’s calling out the failure of government to protect us from gun violence in Tennessee. I need to acknowledge these kinds of positive change in order to anticipate more change in the future.
I am ever grateful, therefore, for those of us who hold life with a positive anticipation, even against the discouragements we also face. I know you are out there. And I honor and deeply appreciate your accompaniment and anticipation.
*See Larry Rasmussen, The Planet You Inherit, Broadleaf Books, 2022
**Our SPICES testimonies are the ethical principles in Quakerism that grounds our faith and practice: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship.