We are told again and again to expect the unexpected. Oscar Wilde says it shows proof of a modern intellect, and Heraclitus goes so far as to say we won’t find it if we don’t know it’s coming. Let me say right now that I love the unexpected and that first-date quality it adds to whatever moment it lands on, but I think it’s presumptuous to anticipate the unknown. To attempt to envision the as-yet unseen shows a light arrogance and a general lack of élan, and one thing you don’t want is to be approaching the end of time without as much élan as you can rustle up.
Something I wasn’t expecting was Ash Wednesday. It always takes me by surprise but not one of the good surprises—rather the re-realization that people are walking the streets of a modern city with ash on their foreheads. I can tolerate religion, just barely, but I get a bit queasy when the hocus pocus and the voodoo parts kick in. Speaking of queasy, let’s talk foreskin and the lack of it. Let me say I am down with circumcision. There’s nothing like a bit of the old shock of the new to wake a person up to the fullness of life—and everybody knows how I feel about “Less is more.” At my nephew’s bris I was a sandak, a title of honor given to the person who’s job is holding the thighs down while the tip is clipped, so I have been up close enough to see the rabbi suck the evil spirits out of the penis at hand. Sure, in the spirit of modern times, rabbis now use a Dixie cup when they suck, but it still seems a bit sketchy to me. The modernizing doesn’t stop there. A new tradition that has been added to the ceremony is for everyone to greet the child with a quick “baruch haba,” which doesn’t mean “I hope he goes to business school” but rather “blessed be he who comes.” They are now expecting the unexpected in the very worst way. They are allowing for the fact that each male child might be the messiah. Not only does this show a serious lack of common sense, it is almost totally élan free.
As you can see, this whole concept of expectation and our relationship to the shape of things to come is a lot more complicated than it seems. So again I say, What did you think the end of times was going to look like?
Take my advice: Don’t expect the unexpected. You don’t want to be that guy, the one who knows someone is throwing him a surprise party but just doesn’t know where it is. My advice is to go ahead and expect the expected: That’s just common sense, which is another thing you will find very useful on the final descent. I say accept the unexpected and embrace the unknown, but don’t stop there. Welcome the uninvited and celebrate the non sequitur. You can still think inside the box. You can even live in that box — just remember to open the windows and leave the door unlocked.