In June, 2014 Pretty, Spike and I took one of our famous family weekend road trips through our neighboring state of Georgia that began with Finnster Fest in Summerville, continued to Berry College near Rome, with a final stop in Milledgeville before turning east toward South Carolina and home. Milledgeville was the home of Flannery O’Connor, an American author (1925 – 1964) born in Savannah, Georgia who wrote fiction set in the rural south. Her thirty-two short stories are considered by many to be some of the best published in the 20th century. In November, 2014 I reflected on that trip.
This past summer we visited Flannery O’Connor’s home at Andalusia Farms outside of Milledgeville, Georgia. It was my kind of place – her mother’s old dairy barn, Flannery’s peacock coop, a small frame house where their caretakers lived, and a bigger white farmhouse with a screened front porch that overlooked the pine tree lined road leading up to the farm from the highway. Rural, agrarian, somewhat secluded.
The author and her mother lived on the farm together until Flannery died at the age of thirty-nine from lupus. The illness limited her activities in her last years but according to our docent Flannery loved to sit on the screened front porch in the afternoon to entertain and be entertained by visitors who came from places around the country for an opportunity to meet her. Often Flannery’s relatives who lived in the local area “dropped by” to meet the O’Connor’s guests. On one of these occasions several people were chatting while they sat in the rocking chairs on the porch and one of Flannery’s cousins was relaying a particularly boring story that did not entertain Ms. O’Connor.
Flannery leaned over to a person sitting next to her and said in a voice loud enough for everyone on the porch to hear, “She’s just not what we’d hoped she would be.”
Pretty and I laughed to think of Flannery O’Connor making that remark from her rocking chair on the front porch. We laughed again after we left Andalusia Farms on the ride home to Columbia. We still laugh at the line months later and have now appropriated it when we share an inside joke – something or someone is just not what we’d hoped they would be, are they?
Actually, though, I believe there’s more truth than poetry in the remark. Disappointment is a universal experience that strikes when we least expect it and lingers longer than we’d prefer. When disappointment comes from a person, the feeling generally comes from a person we love, trust or admire. When the letdown comes from a place, well then, politics or organized religion is usually involved; when it comes from a football team, losing is the culprit.
Here’s my remedy for most disappointments: lower your expectations. Forget lofty idol worshipping – it didn’t work well for the followers of Baal in the Old Testament, and it’s likely to run into trouble with people we put on pedestals today. Pedestals topple like the walls of Jericho with just as much noise, confusion, pain and suffering. None of us live in a glass house with the luxury of casting the first stone at a fallen pedestal so if a particular pedestal falls, add a dash of forgiveness…seventy times seven is about right. Where little has been forgiven, little love is shown. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.
Politics and organized religion, on the other hand, tend to merge in disappointing convergence with neither being what we’d originally hoped they would be. They’re so far gone we’ve forgotten what we’d hope they would be. That’s disappointment of epic proportions. I got nothing.
Finally, as for football teams, losing occurs in the midst of much noise, confusion, pain and suffering but don’t lower your expectations. Simply fire the coach.
He’s probably not what we’d hoped he would be.