I recently visited one of my great-nephews to help celebrate his birthday. He turned 7 this week, with all the excitement and expectation that involves. I knew before going that I would barely get into the room before he eagerly grabbed the bag with his gift and started digging into it. And I certainly didn’t mind. His excitement and pleasure was my reason for giving the gift. But the experience caused me to do some deeper thinking and even some soul searching.
There were three items in the gift bag, and he didn’t stop to look at that fact or to take a few seconds wondering at what could be inside the wrapping. There was no sense of anticipation as he drew the items out. He simply grabbed each one and whipped the paper off with one movement. I was heartily glad he enjoyed the experience, but I found myself thinking, “Now, if that had been me, I would have stopped and looked at the packaging and considered the shapes. I would have taken my time handling each one and carefully taking off the paper. I would not have done those things because I really cared about the paper, but because all of that prelude activity was part of my anticipation – and my enjoyment of the anticipation itself.
I have a great friend who, every time I give him a wrapped or otherwise enclosed gift, holds it for a few moments, seeming to weigh it in his hands, turning it over and looking carefully at its shape. Almost always, he smells it – especially if it comes in a sack. He closes his eyes, opens the sack, and sniffs. In fact, it is so much his habit to do so that I accuse him of receiving a gift more like a dog does than a human. Dogs always sniff something new before they connect with it completely, do they not? Of course, in my friend’s defense, I have to say that he often receives food gifts, and that action is not quite so unusual in those instances. However, he generally goes through that procedure with virtually any gift. He savors the anticipation of the gift almost as much as the item itself.
So what’s my point here? Well, as I was sitting there watching my nephew, I thought, “What a shame there is no time devoted to the anticipation, which would heighten the enjoyment.” But then the thought hit me: “He doesn’t need anticipation in order to enjoy this gift to its fullest. For him, life is so present, so immediate, that he focuses all of his enjoyment on that split-second experience of grabbing hold of the gift and whipping off the paper to reveal the prize.”
And that’s when the full realization hit home: Anticipation is for grownups. It’s only after we have lived a great number of years that we start to focus on the anticipation of good things to come. Sometimes, we even drag out the receiving of them for as long as possible, talking about how lovely the wrapping is or how heavy the item feels, peeling away the wrapping so slowly that the giver even complains that we are taking too long. I have a few friends who do this to point that I get completely frustrated with them.
But as that realization grew in my mind, I then began to ask myself why it is that we grownups seem to enjoy the anticipation so much. Is it because we’ve learned that it expands and extends and multiplies our pleasure? Or is it because, subconsciously, we have become aware that time seems to go past more quickly now, and good things just don’t seem to last as long. So we do our best to extend the time of enjoyment as much as possible – before we have to return to just ordinary life again.
I didn’t come up with an answer that day. Nor have I settled on one even now. Perhaps both of those reasons play a part in the answer. But as I think back over the way I see children enjoying almost any kind of fun, compared to the way we adults do so, I have to admit that anticipation really does seem to be a grownup thing. And that has led me to think about something else as well. I’m thinking that the next time I receive a gift or have the opportunity for a special fun experience, I may try – very hard – to grab hold of it and whip off the wrapping, without any prelude or consideration of trying to make it last longer. I just might find that I’ll enjoy it even more if I receive it as a little child.