No matter where I am in the world, my mind continually wanders to the years I spent in New York - from my brief year as a freshman at a private Christian college to life as a postgraduate, administrative professional. There are lessons to draw from the woes and joys of riding the subway everyday; navigating lower Manhattan, which still doesn’t make any sense; gleaning poetic inspiration from sunsets and homeless people alike; understanding that nearly every social introduction is akin to an interview (and that having a solid elevator pitch can be really useful); and ultimately recognizing that New York is a crash course in human nature.
I was thinking today of the time that my friend and I attended a concert at Cafe Wha? in the West Village. I say concert, but the venue is like a dingy basement with tightly-lined booths and tables and a stage. That said, it’s quite famous in its own right, having housed legends like Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Dylan. Anyway, that night we were going to see a Brazilian guitarist. We were late, but still got a booth immediately in front of the stage. Across from us were a couple of older ladies. Smooth, relaxing sounds drew my attention to the earthy skin and strong hands of the guitar player. Accompanying him on stage was a drummer and a rather eccentric looking vocalist named Julie.
Julie - a woman somewhere in her 60s - was rocking glittery eyeshadow, fake lashes, and rainbow tights. She seemed like an odd addition, but once her silky smooth voice started sliding over each note, I understood that this was a match made in musical heaven.
A few songs into the set, there was a moment of silence. The guitar was being tuned; Julie was sipping water, when I heard a voice say: “Can you let him play? I’m sorry, but I came here to hear him play Brazilian guitar.” My heart rate shot up. One of the ladies sharing our booth had literally stopped the show to express her disappointment to Julie. She went on to say that this is not what she paid for. After her speech ended, audience members chimed in…
“Oh my God…”
I had no words.
Julie walked off of the stage with a mumble, “I don’t take it personally.”
The guitarist offered the frustrated audience member a smile as though she were a child. He assured her that there would be acoustic pieces as well.
Julie came back onstage a few songs later. Everyone clapped.
As for me, the concert ended all too quickly. People exited the venue while I sat in the booth, still gooey from the music. Suddenly, a voice close to me hissed, “You are the nastiest bitch I have ever seen.” It was another audience member. She decided to impart some final words to the lady who had interrupted the show earlier. The romantic haze that had developed from the music quickly dissipated and I got up from my seat without a smile.
When I reflect on this memory, my first inclination is to judge the people who expressed their disappointment so poorly. First, the lady who interrupted the show; and second, the woman who, when everything was over, decided to speak hurtful, indignant words. Of course I would never do something like that.
But then, it would be hypocritical of me to assume anything of the sort. In truth, I see much of me in both of their reactions. How many times have I come before God with my hands on my hips and my feet stomping around like a child? How many times have I imperiously put myself in the seat of Judge without thinking through the fact that I often respond wrongly as well? Any disappointment I experience in my circumstances, in God, or in other people only shows a lack of self-awareness that I am capable of the same responses.
As I adjust to life in a new country, I am acutely aware of the need to surrender all of my expectations to God. It’s easy to want to hijack His plan and try to fit in my own instead, but that never works. My meditation since being here has been on Psalm 37:3, which says, "Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness." This verse strikes me for the dual responsibility placed on God and the believer. Trust in Him and follow His precepts; be faithful and dwell (make a home) in the place where you are. It doesn't promise ease or that everyone will be perfect according to my idea of perfect; only that He is perfect and my responsibility is to follow Him.
The Psalm goes on to promise that "He will bring forth [my] righteousness as the light, and [my] justice as the noonday."
If our hope is in Him, I would challenge the very concept of disappointment at all.