Modest Expectations

Modest as opposed to great. It is hard not to think of the title of the classic Dickens novel Great Expectations. You may know the story. Pip, a young blacksmith’s apprentice, is suddenly gifted with a large sum of money. The novel traces his attempt to become a part of London’s high society in the mid 1800s. The title is a double entendre. It refers both to the money that comes to Pip, and also to how that money changes the expectations he has for his life. Had the money not appeared he would have been satisfied to live in a small village, marry a village girl, and run the local blacksmith’s shop. But suddenly he sees himself in a different way, and he expects more. In fact, he expects great things.

We are living through a time where many of us are moving in the other direction. Perhaps a few months ago we too had great expectations – things we thought we might do, places we planned to go, work goals, social goals, things we wanted to buy, or celebrate, or build. How those expectations have changed! I think we are coming to a greater appreciation of modest expectations – perhaps the deepest appreciation we’ve had of such things in many years. Here are a few of mine:

To walk through the neighborhood on a warm spring day, sun shining on my back.

To read in a comfortable chair on a quiet evening, the outside world and its troubles receding from my mind for a time. Perchance while reading to sip a fine whisky (is that a modest or great expectation?).

To watch the holly bush at the corner of our house slowly grow as spring slips into early summer.

To spend time with those I love. To talk and laugh and remember and tell stories of shared experiences and cherished moments. And to subtly understand how those experiences bond us together.

To listen to the rain insistently falling as the wind blows in the early hours of the morning.

To watch the clouds rush north on a blustery day, searching for something they never will find.

To see Jupiter’s bright beacon shining as dawn begins to break. To find the north star in the sky, or Orion’s belt flickering on a winter night.

To hear a sweet song that speaks to me of who I was and who I am. To have that song bring a tear to my eye.

To rise in the morning with appreciation for the many gifts with which I’ve been blessed.

To lie in bed at night, knowing, as I drift off to sleep, that I’ve lived a decent day.

Author: Steve Schwartz

Husband, father of three, Deadhead, and rabbi. I am now in my 22nd year of serving a large congregation in the Baltimore area.

4 thoughts

  1. After reading your article I really am taking stock of myself. It is so inspiring. Thank u. Be safe and well. Reta

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