Anticipation versus Surprise

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.” A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh



“Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.” – Boris Pasternak (1890-1960)


Which do you think is the best?

I feel like the answer *should* be surprise. But even just the word “surprise” is so loaded it’s terrifying. Come on, it’s happened to you before: a friend, parent, sibling, significant other, colleague says, “Oooh! I have a surprise for you!” and INSTANTANEOUSLY your imagination goes WILD and you have considered every possibility under the sun – scratch that – you have only considered the expensive, flashy, extravagant, momentous, gigantically meaningful possibilities. And then your colleague brings out the free pen he brought you from the weekend conference. Or your friend shows you her new hair colour. Perhaps your boyfriend took out the garbage or your girlfriend revealed the colour of the bathroom counter by actually putting away her makeup and hair supplies. Maybe it’s your sister eager to share the latest family gossip. Not all that surprising, and inevitably a disappointment (huge or otherwise) that it’s not what you expected or secretly hoped for.

Unfortunately, it also goes the other way when PLANNING a surprise. And it’s almost WORSE from that end. Don’t even try to tell me you’ve never had the PERFECT surprise SOMEthing that completely went to shit. Someone told, or the intended surprise-receiver was early… or late… or just didn’t show up! Ever shown up on someone’s doorstep to shout “SURPRISE!! I came home early,” and they’re not home… or they are… but not alone? Burnt the fancy roast dinner beyond recognition? Forgot that your older brother is the one that loves black forest cake and your younger brother, in fact, despises anything that tries to steal the spotlight from plain, simple, faithful flavour of chocolate?

When a surpise goes awry, too many unhappy emotions surface for both giver and receiver. Regret that a key factor was not considered; guilt over not reacting appropriately to the surprise or unintentionally ruining it in some way; worry over money wasted; disappointment in not bringing unexpected joy to someone you love. Surprising is a risky business. I suppose that’s what makes it a story that’s told for years when it is successful – or unsuccessful, I suppose. Hmm…Memories of a certain surprise houseboat party and the shenanigans in “playing the part” to not give it away are suddenly coming to mind…. I will admit, that even after weeks of planning it for Courtney and many a misstep and too many “what, you’re cancelling NOW?!, ” etc, and so on… it did make for some funny stories and a few perfect facial expressions of complete confusion to sorting it out to “you did this for me” that made it all worth it. Okay, fine, surprises are still in the running for worthwhile events.

BUT…….anticipation. There’s nothing like it. Especially when it starts a little bit like a surprise. Here’s where the inspiration for this post comes. I am just coming to the end of Month Six of living and teaching in Australia for a year. It’s been much more challenging that I’d anticipated and I miss every little detail of friends, family, home more than I thought possible. The end of Month Six also brings School Holiday Two. While I am thrilled to be going to see the Great Barrier Reef, soak up some sunshine, and visit a place named sort of for a fabulous man (Charles Darwin), I just wasn’t feeling the adventurous spirit needed to visit four locations, rent a car to venture into the wilderness, and potentially camp-ish by myself. I felt I’d done enough independent travel for one year. It was bordering on feeling like obligatory travel to see the country while I’m here.

That is, until last week. My dearest sister, Courtney, really did want to come out to see me and Australia, but was just not going to be able to swing it. I’d completely accepted this and had pretty much put the idea of its 1% possibility out of my head. Two weeks before packing suitcases for my adventure, she surprised me. No, she didn’t “fly around the world and land on my doorstep without telling me” surprise me. She decided to make the safe decision to ensure she’d show up on the right door step. She got me on Skype so she could watch me receive a “what do you think of this?” subject-lined e-mail. “Alright, wedding planning ideas for sure,” I thought to myself and keep chatting before reading the e-mail. Clearly, she was intently studying my face because she knew the INSTANT I was reading it and began laughing her head off as I tried to decipher a flight itinerary…the person flying…the dates….?!?!?!! SISTER IS COMING!!! As soon as – shouting at her – I confirmed she was really coming, I was bawling my eyes out – again, missing people I love more than I realized I would.

“There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved.” Charles Morgan


So, there was the surprise part. That moment was so truly wonderful. But the ensuing conversation and realizations that she is COMING, she really IS, were that much sweeter. The discoveries that I wouldn’t have to adventure alone; that now I am not deterred from the camping possibility, but excited to try it out; that landing in Darwin at 12:30 am suddenly wouldn’t be so daunting; and… I could go on but won’t… well, those continuing discoveries and the daily thoughts of her arrival, and our trip, and the planning together for two full weeks are so much more precious than having her surprise me on the first day of my holidays. Now, instead of having her with me for two weeks, I have her for four!

Well, despite writing MUCH more than I’d planned to and maybe still not getting to my point, I realize I can’t bring myself to even attempt to explain the never-gets-old magic of anticipating an incredible future event. I’m just sitting here with a dreamy smile on my face reviewing all the events, gifts, visits, that I’ve been excited to arrive at over the years. Children anticipating Christmas is as perfect an example as I can think of – the day is great and all, but really, there’s just nothing as uncontrollably exciting as Christmas Eve (… or, for me still, the three weeks leading up to Christmas).

Thank you, Courtney, for allowing me the elation of revelling in the anticipation of your arrival. I love you.

“The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting” Andy Warhol



So, what’s the bees knees for you? Anticipation or suprise?

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2 thoughts on “Anticipation versus Surprise

  1. That is so amazing that Courtney is coming to see you and was able to surprise you with it! I am actually surprising my mom with a visit home at the end of August. She recently bought a cottage and all she wants is for me to come see it.

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