By Nancy Taylor
All of our lives, we live in anticipation.
We wake up in the morning and listen to the weather, so we can dress in anticipation.
We spend spring anticipating summer, summer anticipating September and return to school, and fall anticipating winter and Christmas.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines anticipation as “a prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action”, but in general, we think of anticipation as pleasurable. Another definition of anticipation is “the act of looking forward, especially: pleasurable expectation” (Merriam Webster, n.d.). While we anticipate things both happy and sad, we more often dwell on the happy when we think anticipation.
Of course, because time only runs in one direction, we have to live in anticipation. We can only remember the past, whether with pleasure or with regret.
Dogs anticipate. I think of our dogs heading to watch out the window when it was time for the children to come home from school. In fact, Spot, the Labrador, knew to go lie by the door on Friday evenings, in case Roy came home from Western. I love stories about dogs, so I will tell you one more.
Cuddles, our little dog, loved to go to Camp. When we got in the car to go somewhere, she would get in, lie down, and go to sleep. When we turned onto the road north of Meath Park, she would wake up and stare out the window. When we turned down the gravel road towards camp, she would start to whimper and dance with excitement. When we got out to open the gate, she couldn’t wait any longer, and she would jump out and run toward the beach. This was quite funny because she wouldn’t go in the water on her own. So, she would dance and bark until someone came and threw her in the water, to her great delight.
Unlike dogs, we anticipate not only based on our memories of past experiences, but also because of things we have read, or that others have shared with us in some way. I remember the teenage girls waiting for the Beatles on their first trip to America, screaming and fainting, as the Beatles came off the plane. This was all anticipation, of course, because most of them would never have seen these people before, except on television. They would have only heard their music. Dogs would have been puzzled by all of this, although I’m sure they would have barked along just for the excitement.
We come to the ultimate anticipation, one that few people even want to consider, much less think of enthusiastically: Death. Even though we know that death comes to everyone many people live as though death is a total surprise.
“How could this have happened to this wonderful person I knew?” Few people would say that they anticipate death- except possibly talking to a doctor, preferably about someone else, in the late stages of an illness.
But, we as Christian people have a gift: we have a witness who came back to tell us about what to expect. In John 14, Jesus talks about how there are many rooms in his father’s house: lots of space for all to visit. While He said this just before He died, He had also borne witness just before that, by bringing his friend Lazarus back from the dead, after four days in the tomb. Then He went ahead to his death in full anticipation of the good and the terrible things coming in the process. When He had fulfilled everything, He died, and then came back, just as He had said, after three days, though his disciples did not anticipate any of this. He stayed with his disciples for a time, so that they could shore up their strength, and be ready for what was to come next. We hear that they went joyfully to the grave, in anticipation of what was to come.
Remember, this is what we have more than animals have: we can anticipate death as a joyful reunion with those who got to go home first. We know friends are waiting for us. We do not grieve as those who have no hope – though we do grieve, as we miss people who have left a significant mark on our hearts and our lives. We don’t feel the need to hurry death, we know our father will be ready for us in His time. We can anticipate both the good and the bad, with courage and potential for joy to come.