spine too chilled

Written by Aida Safiyah
Art by Holly Warburton

I always say that I love being disappointed.

The chill in my stomach and down my spine when I experience a pang of disappointment… I love it so much. When I’m let down by a person or betrayed by unexpected circumstances… so human. It’s such a fertile emotion, and reminds me that I’m alive and living. It’s a pendulum swing of a feeling, two faces of a coin– being disappointed, then having hope again, before the universe slips in yet another betrayal, and injects another shot of optimism.

To me, disappointment is a pretty profound way to feel sadness. Being disappointed by someone, via their words, or actions, or unearthing an underlying intention of theirs that reveals things we didn’t know beforehand regarding their character– it’s such a vulnerable thing to experience for both parties, and for myself to be content with that disappointment allows the people in my life to be human as well, and gives them space and time to experience the complexity of their lives without being subject to extreme judgment.

When I’ve trusted someone or a situation to play out a certain way, and they don’t, there’s an opportunity for me to be courageous. I do admit that it’s hard! But I pause and remind myself that it’s so human to fantasize about the future, to dream about an outcome. It is human to extend trust and hope. So, being disappointed is not a great feeling, sure, since our brain processes disappointment as an act of disrespect towards our ego, or a harm towards our wellbeing. But it becomes easier to overcome this when we accept that life just consists of many unequal actors. And these unequal actors will, a lot of time, find it tough to cooperate with each other to produce ideal outcomes.

I’ve come to understand that the vulnerability of my needs and wants being unmet will always exist underneath every single sliver of hope or expectation I extend to someone— all courage in believing in a friend or family member’s promise will forever be haunted by the possibility of brokenheartedness or crushing disappointment. But there is nothing more courageous than to extend my arm to reach across the chasm regardless. There is nothing more brave than attempting to draw that line between expectation and reality over and over again. 

Of course, this shouldn’t apply to all situations wherein our hopes and needs are unmet. We shouldn’t tolerate it when something is done to us with the intention to upset us, by people who want to hurt us. And it is tough to trust someone again after they’ve let you down. But in the occasions when the ones we love are simply being human– grappling with their own responsibilities, subject to their own ever-changing circumstances– it’s important to realize that these pendulum swings between hope and disappointment are what helps propel us forward in a universe where we all have very, very little control in the grand scheme of things.

I’m not encouraging intentionally courting disappointment and sadness like a mad scientist, but it also shouldn’t be something we avoid out of fear with the assumption that moving toward happiness is the best way to live. No. I prefer the path that makes me attempt more questions, the path that teaches me how to answer those questions with more and more accuracy. The path that pursues progress instead of perfection.

Hopefully, I’ll always accept people as they are, and when they are “less of themselves, I’d be ready to help. Hopefully, I would always extend grace and understanding to the people around me. Hopefully, one day, I would finally extend this grace to myself too.