Dealing With Disappointment

I am freshly returned from sixteen day’s travel in France and London and had planned on posting some lovely travel related ditty today.  But life is full of twists and turns and so this post will follow that way.  But don’t worry.  I’ll bore you with travel stories soon.  Just not today.

Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean is a point of land that always reminds me of a bony chin.  In 1788, Captain John Meares named that bony outcropping Cape Disappointment as a way of summing up his failure to find what is now known as the Columbia River.  Travel to Cape Disappointment today and you will see the most frequently visited Washington State Park.  There is no disappointment to be found anywhere.  Just lovely beaches, beautiful trees, and the oldest still-functioning lighthouse on the west coast.  Time has passed and what was once disappointing has instead turned into a thing of wonder.

And isn’t that how life is?

Several weeks ago my Oldest came home in tears.  The middle schools had started making their pitches to the fifth graders and he suddenly was filled with dread.  “What if I don’t go to the right middle school?  My whole life will be ruined!” he sobbed.  And then I was filled with dread.  Because what adults all see as a minor bump in the road of life’s passages, a fifth grader sees as the biggest thing to surmount yet.  It became an afternoon of used tissues and hugs and lots of words.  Words which mostly centered about the idea that everything would work out just fine.

Ultimately, my Oldest applied to the magnet arts school here in the district and we also became more familiar with the middle school he would naturally attend based on our location.  Mister Soandso and I were impressed with both programs and so we helped Oldest through the application process and figured all would work out just fine.

And then yesterday’s mail arrived.  In it was a very thin letter informing Oldest that he was not accepted into the arts school.  375 fifth graders applied for the incoming singular sixth grade class and Oldest was not one of the chosen few.

Once again there were tears in our home.  Tears of significant disappointment.  It broke my heart to hear him ask, between sobs, if it was the 2s and 3s he had received on his second grade report card that had kept him from being accepted.  And so I did the only thing I knew to do.  I gathered tissues and his small body into my arms and I told him this story.  It is a true story and he said it helped.

Years ago, I had the honor of teaching a wonderful young man whom I’ll call “Bob”.  Bob was a gifted student whom I taught in my 11th grade International Baccalaureate HL English class.  I also coached him on my speech team.  His senior year he asked me to write him a letter of recommendation to Harvard University – the only school he had ever dreamed of attending.  So I did.  It was an easy letter to write.  This was a young man with all the fine attributes a school could want in a student.  And yet he was denied entrance.

One afternoon he came to my classroom in tears.  He wanted to know what I had said in that letter of recommendation.  He knew his test scores, his grade point average, his application essay.  What he didn’t know was what criteria had been used to find him lacking and he thought it must be something I had said.  As a teacher, these moments are heart breaking.  Standing before me, trying to hold his tears at bay, was a young man grappling with the idea he wasn’t good enough for the school of his choice as well as wondering what he could possibly do now.

I gathered my box of tissues and I said to him, “Bob, I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but I know in my heart you will end up exactly where you are supposed to be.  I promise that one day, you will look back on this and see your path never was headed where you thought it was…you just didn’t know where to look until now.”

Much time passed and one afternoon as I was grading papers in the waning sunlight, there was a knock on my door.  There stood an older Bob.  He had come back to tell me about his time at Northwestern where he was in all honors classes, had a fantastic internship with a world-renown professor, studying a subject he hadn’t known he would love.

And he told me this:

“You were right.  All my life I thought the only way for  me to be successful was to go to Harvard and so I never looked anywhere else.  It was only when they didn’t accept me that I was able to find my way to where I really should have been looking all along.”

All of us get lost along our path sometimes.  We look in vain for something that never shows itself.  But along this life’s journey, we find so many things we may never have thought to look for.  And what a great gift that is…to be shown something beautiful that was once hidden in a wrapping of disappointment.

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22 thoughts on “Dealing With Disappointment

  1. There isn’t a missed note anywhere throughout this beautiful entry, but the final paragraph was so touching I read it several times. Thank you so much for this important reminder.

  2. My daughter, who was and is a wonderful woman, put Swarthmore as her top choice for college (lo these many years ago). They didn’t actually turn her down, but they dithered for so long that she decided she should accept the ones who said they wanted her more quickly: Oberlin.

    At Oberlin, one of her roommates turned into her heartthrob. After almost twenty years together, they now have a seven-year-old daughter whom I consider my science fiction grandchild–because technology (half of science fiction) kept her alive after two sisters died before birth because of allergies to Mommy’s body and because granddaughter considers it perfectly normal to have two mommies (Mommy is birth mother and our daughter is known as Mama) and two daddies (the sperm donor was a school mate at Oberlin and he and his partner of almost ten years visit frequently from their home in Chicago. Social change is the second half of science fiction (in case you were wondering).

    • I LOVE THIS! So wonderful that Oberlin (a college I adore) was the home of such great things for your daughter. Thank you for sharing. {hug}

    • Thanks Bill. I do miss teaching – most days. I loved my students. I told parents that my students were their babies but my kids. And now that I have my own babies, I hope their teachers love them just as fiercely as I did my kids. 🙂

  3. this broke my heart and then mended it back up again… thank you, so much. and much love to you and your son (and the rest too)

  4. Fantastic reminder that where we think we SHOULD head is not always what God has in store for us. The winding road of life is what makes our lives much more rich and interesting and creates great depth of character. Thank you for writing this piece. ~ Dana

  5. I have to agree with Bill. You are an amazing woman. Your oldest will be fine. After all, he’s got an amazing support system that will help him along the way. {hugs to you both}

  6. You are such a wise and beautiful person. I have a heart full of love for you. Barb

  7. And our poor kids haven’t lived life enough to know that life does go on after lose and tragedy even outside of disappointment. Years ago I started the conversations with my son after hearing about too many kids committing suicide about losing a love, having your heart broke and not knowing how to move on. We parents want to shield our kids from lose and disappointment, but its probably good we let them experience the little ones before a big one hits.

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