On Suspense

Every morning with breakfast, I sit down to watch The Daily Show, reveling in its ability to update me on the world’s happenings while at the same time eliciting the laughter so critical to beginning a new day. Yesterday, I sat down with my unassuming bowl of raisin bran and turned on the DVR. The recording had caught the end of It’s Always Sunny, so I quickly hit the fast-forward button.

On a DirecTV DVR, if you fast-forward, when you finally hit the “play” button, the recording skips back a few seconds, assuming that your fingers did not respond to your brain’s command as quickly as is necessary. So, when I finally hit the play button, Jon Stewart was saddled up to his familiar desk, beginning his opening statements. Since the recording had gone back a few seconds, though, what I saw actually began with the title sequence- that familiar booming voice announcing ceremoniously that “This is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

I noticed a strange relief come over me when I saw that the recording had skipped back to the title sequence. I wondered why. I’d seen this sequence, literally, hundreds of times. Why did I attach any importance to it?

Instantly, the words of Alfred Hitchcock came to mind:

There is no thrill in the bang... only in the anticipation of it.

It was the anticipation- or, more accurately, the suspense that the title sequence built that subtly and silently thrilled me.

This appreciation for suspense is one of life’s great joys, and one that largely goes unnoticed.

There are epic moments in all of our lives. Indeed, we seem to hopelessly attempt to model our lives after Hollywood scripts, simply attempting to fill the space between those epic moments.

Maybe you’re writing a novel, the completion of which is your next epic moment. Maybe you’re a mother, and wait impatiently for those all-too-rare moments in which your child takes her first steps, or makes you so proud that you feel that you might burst. Maybe you’re working eighty hours a week in hopes of finally making partner at your firm. Maybe, if you judge your life to be woefully lacking in epic moments, you turn on the TV or go to the movies to witness others' epic moments.

Such is the state of life, that none are happy but by the anticipation of change: the change itself is nothing; when we have made it, the next wish is to change again.

~ Samuel Johnson

Looking at life through the lens of the epic inevitably yields many blind spots, but it is those who master the art of peripheral vision who are truly life’s conquerors. In that peripheral vision lies suspense, anticipation, and life itself.

If you've prepared a cup of tea, take a moment to savor the aroma, the warmth, before you take that first sip. If you're about to delve into War and Peace, take a breath and simply acknowledge the weight of it in your hands. If you’re writing a novel, develop the awareness to appreciate the time spent in front of the blank page, of honing your craft. If you’re a mother, learn to see the mind of your child churning, radiating in every direction as she begins to grasp the concepts that will eventually lead to the stellar report card. If you’re a lawyer, or an advertiser, or a barista, or a civil worker, take off the glasses and let the blind spots reveal themselves to you. It is there that life resides, and it is only when the fog lifts that you can begin to savor the anticipation of it.

An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being often but precursors of the things which we are capable of performing.

~Samuel Smiles

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