Thinking of the limbo makes me remember middle school. Specifically, it makes me remember the skating rink just down the road from my middle and high schools, which happened to be one of few public places in the area for kids of that age to congregate socially. As I’m sure you can tell, a booming metropolis my county was not. The number of cornfields was only rivaled by the number of boring strip malls – and there were plenty of each, I assure you.
Now, I wasn’t a huge fan of the skating rink, being as I never quite mastered the art of roller skating and I’d have been much happier to be at a friend’s house making sock puppets for no good reason. But I think there were a handful of birthday parties and field trips that took me to the skating rink during those tumultuous years. “What should we do with a bunch of antsy sixth graders on one of the last days of school?” Why, send them off to the dimly-lit, yellow-tinged, industrial-looking building that, once you stepped inside, took you back a decade and a half and conjured images of disco and teen angst. Of course!
So, aside from fearfully clinging to the railing that went around the rim of the rink – oh how I envied you fearless gliders in the middle, skating backwards – I spent my time hoping desperately that nobody either whizzed by and knocked my perilously wobbly self over, or made vicious remarks about my inability to skate (this was middle school, after all). I remember the taste of Sprite consumed with birthday cake, and the feeling of trying to hoist your two-ton roller skate feet over the benches at the tables to enjoy said cake and soda repast. I remember the sound of that Jock Jams song pulsing incessantly, but also the Limbo Rock, Chubby Checker’s other contribution to obligatory dances. I’m actually not sure if the limbo was done on roller skates, because while that seems like a really dangerous undertaking, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it would be done anyhow. It was like Starlight Express meets Grease meets West Side Story. But either way, that calypso beat crackling over the sound system signified that it was time to line up and humiliate yourself.
On the several occasions in which I was sucked in to participating in Mr. Checker’s call for every limbo boy and limbo girl (all around the limbo world) to do the limbo rock, I’m pretty certain that once the bar got so low that I could no longer just duck slightly to get under it, I was outta there. Lower back flexibility and a desire to publicly demonstrate the lack thereof have never been pressing priorities in my life. Save the contortions for those who cared about physical competition. For the cool kids. For the kids who had expectations of winning.
Winning, you say? Okay, let’s deconstruct the limbo for a second. The whole point of the thing is to get yourself as near to slithering on the floor as possible. The idea of “stand tall” or “walk proudly” lies in diametric opposition to the premise of this competition. Especially the part involving pride. And because I can’t resist the temptation to fashion an overwrought metaphor out of anything and everything, I’ll adapt a popular t-shirt slogan/bumper sticker and ask: what if the limbo really is what it’s all about?
Life is fraught with expectations. From hoping to win in a sporting event, to walking into an exam having studied for weeks in advance, to trying that recipe because of the seductive, delicious-looking picture of the dish, it seems like we more often than not approach a situation with a desired end result in mind. This is a good thing. It’s what keeps me going when I desperately don’t want to go running or do yoga; I know I’ll feel better afterwards and maybe I’ll finally jog three miles with ease or hold that pose without crumpling on the floor in a defeated pile of torso and limbs. Goals, dreams, motivation: all so important.
How many times have you applied for a position and told yourself, “No, don’t get excited; there’s no way you’ll get this” or avoided telling people about it just so you didn’t curse everything by being hopeful? It’s as if we negate all aspirations for the sake of protecting ourselves from imminent, willpower-crushing disappointment. And you know what? I think that’s ok too, actually. A healthy perspective and dose of reality is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. I mean, if I had a nickel for every time some well-intentioned half of a couple gave me dating advice and said, “You have to just not want it. Don’t look for anything.”…well, I’d have a lot of nickels, and would be peeved that they weren’t quarters, the precious currency of laundry and parking. Point being, maybe living a life of low expectations isn’t an entirely bad thing.
Here’s where I backpedal: I’m not saying that I advocate pessimism or apathy in my low-expectation world. I’m also not saying that everyone operates the same way or that they should, even. But for this (not-so-gold) Goldilocks, a heaping spoonful of “deliberately preparing for the situation” with a side of “taking in stride whatever comes your way” tastes juuuuust right. Lest I overstep my philosophical bounds (I’m sure this whole premise is a theory someone has already laid out far more wisely and eloquently than I), I’ll just say that I’d much rather look at life wide-eyed, wondering what sorts of exciting things will come my way than skeptically, expecting the limbo pole to fall the second I even breathe on it. Competitions are inherently tricky in this regard because you approach them wondering if, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be the one to win. But recently I’ve tried to change that mental script to, “Hey, universe – let’s see what you have in store. I’ve done my part in getting ready for this…bring it.” Maybe if I’d thrown caution to the wind and abandoned my expectations about that stupid broomstick with stripes of electrical tape decorating it, I wouldn’t have been so traumatized at the roller rink. I certainly don’t think I’d ever have won, but I bet it would have been a lot more enjoyable just to appreciate the challenge rather than delude myself with unreasonable expectations, or conversely, wait for the inevitable clatter of the pole on the concrete. And if I were confronted with the same situation now, 15 or so years after the fact, I still wouldn’t be the first in line to spread my limbo feet, but maybe I’d approach that challenge with a slightly more open mindset. Limbo rock? Bring it.
So I have to ask: how low can you go?