Ballard: We all need something to look forward to

January 19, 2014 

Since I was a little boy, I’ve always had to have something to look forward to -- something I could tightly hold on to that helped me smooth the transition from one thing to another. As far back as I can remember, I’ve done this.

Just like holding a brightly colored orange carrot in front of a rabbit, it’s a little deal I make with myself that gives me the incentive I need to move forward.

During the years, it has been different things at different times. The harder I felt the transition would be, the larger I made the thing or event I placed in my mind to look forward to. I really have gotten very good at doing this. In fact, it’s still pretty much a daily ritual for me.

But, the older I become the more I realize doing this sometimes causes me to not enjoy important things happening in the present moment because I’m looking forward to something else.

When I was in elementary school, we mostly prepared meals and ate at home. Money was extremely tight for us and we rarely went out to eat. That is, except for Friday nights, which were different. They marked the end of the school week and offered a couple of days to rest.

On Friday nights, we would not only venture out to eat at a restaurant, but more times than not, my family and I would drive to Warner Robins to eat Mexican food. Boy, did I love Mexican food back then and still do today. In fact, my mouth just watered!

No matter what tests I had that particular week, how grueling our homework was or who had mistreated me, I always kept that bold and brightly lit neon light turned on and blinking in my mind. That glowing sign served as a beacon to remind me that, if I could just make it to Friday, I would be comforted with some fun and Mexican food.

But it wasn’t just that one sign blinking in my head. I usually had an entire group of them serving as mental bridges to lead me over some of the rougher waters of life.

The waters really don’t even have to be very rough for me to enlist the help of anticipation. Even when everything is running smoothly, I still like to have a star that shines a little brighter than the rest against the night sky. Because of this, I always look forward to holidays, special events and trips that I highlight on the calendar.

“In just two weeks, we’ll be going to New York,” I say to myself. Or, “I can’t wait until we get together with a group of friends next week.”

This time of year, anticipation and I have to be closer than ever. I rely on him a lot. January always seems dull to me when compared with all the glittering decorations, gatherings, food and fun times that the holidays offer. As soon as the countdown leading into the new year is over, I can feel gloom trying to shove anticipation out of the way. I really have to work to stay excited.

My December birthday is over and so is Christmas. All the decorations have to be taken down and, as many of you can attest, the taking down process is not nearly as fun as the decorating part. To be completely honest, January has to be my least favorite month. Because of this, as you can imagine, I try to have something planned to look forward to.

Taking down our Christmas tree always makes me a little sad. It’s like saying goodbye to your best friend who you won’t be seeing again for many months. There is just a void in our living room where the tree was.

This year provided the perfect opportunity for anticipation and me to work together. I’ve had an antique chair for a few years that needed some reconstruction and to be re-covered. I loved it and wanted to use it in our living room. I had the repairs done to its frame during the summer months and chose the new fabric to cover it.

I had plenty of time to have it completed before the holidays but I held back. I decided to postpone getting it from the upholsterer until the first week in January. That way, when I was depressed about taking down the tree, I knew I had a newly upholstered chair ready to take its place.

I guess as long as I have breath in me, I’ll be anticipating something. It’s just who I am. This year, it is one of my goals to soak in and enjoy the present instead of always looking forward to the future.

Oh, it will be very hard for me but at least I’m giving it my best. I will never say goodbye to anticipation because we are really close. But I am kicking gloom out. There’s no room for him here!

More with Mark

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballard@cox.net; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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