There is nothing mystical about foresight. It’s standing up on your toes for a quick peek over the crowd to catch a glimpse of what might be next. My father taught me early on to anticipate. If you’re a waiter, don’t just deliver what they order. Think ahead whether they may want more than their meal. When you’re driving, count on the likelihood that this distracted guy on the cell phone may cut you off without looking.
Over the years I’ve trained myself to think three or four steps ahead before taking action. Though I often miss the mark, more often than not this bit of mental legwork plays to my advantage. Anticipating events in the physical world saves grief. I know this to be true.
But emotional anticipation isn’t such an easy tread.
I saw a delightful film the other night called “We Bought a Zoo”. There’s a wonderful scene in which the new owner of the zoo, played by Matt Damon, comes across an escaped full grown 850 pound North American grizzly bear. Damon’s character stumbles onto a grassy hilltop where the bear is mere feet away. The normally sedate creature appears more animated than he’s ever seen him, almost drinking in the cool morning mist gazing out into the open valley before him. Then the bear notices Damon and his mood shifts. But Matt can’t bring himself to use his gun. The bear closes in and angrily slaps the weapon from Damon’s hand and roars in his face. A fellow zookeeper hits the bear with a tranquilizer dart and drops him at Matt’s feet.
Other zoo personnel gather round and remark that Damon is lucky to be alive.
“He was completely free for a moment”, he says to the others.
They look at him. And Damon’s character does something remarkable.
“I want to expand his enclosure. Make it much, much bigger.”
Not a reaction typical of a man who moments before faced death. But he recognized what the bear had been going through. He anticipated what it would be like for this poor creature to go back to the way things were. It is this sort of compassion, not just for an animal, but for the people in our lives, those close and valuable to us, that elevates the substance of who we are as human beings.
I haven’t often been very good at anticipating things. I never saw either of my divorces coming. But there is much to be said for perseverance. So I continue to try peeking over the crowd to get a brief glimpse of what others might need from me. And in so doing, I trust that I will better meet my own needs.
Or not. With my timing, the bear would have eaten me.