I was thinking this morning about disappointment. It is one of the most under-rated and unexplored emotions. People don’t talk about it, they don’t write about it. It does not get the same attention as the big headline acts such as anger, or sadness, or depression. When we hear stories about disappointment they are usually focussed on the disappointing event, not the actual feeling of disappointment.
I had a chance to think about disappointment when I was in England a couple of years ago. The great thing about travel is it allows you to deal with the unexpected, in… well…unexpected ways. While I was travelling around Devon and Cornwall visiting places associated with my family history I was plagued by a recurring theme best summed up as “camera trouble”. I had packed my little point and shoot digital camera without stopping to remember that it had an itermittent fault. I was reminded of this in Perrenzabuloe, where my ancestors once lived, and the camera started to shake violently, preventing me from taking the shots I had travelled across the world for.
Unwilling to be defeated, I found a store at the next little town and bought a disposable camera. I used the disposable until I could get back to Truro and buy a new camera. I selected a fabulous Lumix camera (responsible for most photos on this blog) and proceeded on my way. I reached the chalky cliffs of St Agnes, one of the most scenic sights of my trip, and got in one good shot, when the new Lumix died. The battery was flat. Apparently I was supposed to charge it before use. Ugh. !!Disappointment!!!. To be honest I didnt care all that much about family history sites, but I really really wanted to take photos of those spectacular cliffs. There was no shop. I was miles from anywhere, on foot. I felt flooded with the feeling of overwhelm because I simply could not do what to really wanted to do. I calmed myself down and decided to enjoy the moment and soak in the scenery with my eyes (thank you meditation training). I was able to get over it and enjoy my day. When I got back to my room, I taught myself how to charge the camera battery.
A few days later I was in St Ives Cornwall, which is one of the most scenic villages you can imagine, and it was one of the most glorious days you could dream up to view it. I had just taken a few photos of the town from above when…the camera battery died again. Apparently you have to keep charging it at regular intervals. !!Disappointment!!!. Panic. Why does this keep happening to me?? What am I doing wrong!!! Not to be defeated, I went in search of a camera shop but being a Sunday the best I could do was another disposable camera (or three). I calmed myself down and decided to enjoy my day with the camera I had. Later I bought a spare camera battery, and set up a rotation system so that I always had a spare with me.
I was determined to get my photos home to Australia safely, so rather than carry the disposable cameras through customs, I decided to get the photos printed up in Devon. When I went to pick up the photos, the man was very apologetic. The machine had broken down. Here is a sample of what he gave me:
I started to cry. Tears were rolling down my cheeks and there was just nothing I could do to stop them. I had tried so hard. I had done everything I could not to be beaten by camera troubles. But my photos were ruined anyway. I pulled myself together as best I could and made my way to the visitors centre where I had a good old cry in the ladies. I just had to let it out. But at the same time I was crying, I was aware that actually, nothing terrible had happened. I was just disappointed. I wanted nice photos, and I didn’t have nice photos, and that was all there was to it.
Disappointment is an awful feeling, like falling down a bottomless pit. There is a part of me that believes it should be possible to get through life without disappointment. As if there must be a way, some kind of strategy to avoid ever having to feel this awful gaping emptiness of things not going my way. I was very aware of this desire to work out a way that I could have avoided losing my photos, or at least, how it could not be my fault. Of course the first strategy was to promise myself to always have two cameras, and make sure both were in good working order, so that neither ever failed and I always had a backup. The second was to blame the man in the camera shop. Essentially both strategies boil down to blame. If only human error could be eliminated, life would be perfect. But somehow blame didn’t satisfy me. It felt toxic to turn the energy of my disappointment against myself or someone else. I decided the best thing was to stare disappointment in the face and accept that sometimes things go wrong, and there’s just nothing we can do about it.
Since that experience, I think about disappointment like a wave, it knocks us off our feet. We feel overwhelmed and disoriented. But is passes. Sure it makes sense to learn from experience, and keep camera batteries charged up. But I try to avoid the blame game, because its an elaborate hoax to convince myself that its possible for life to be perfect.