Back in the 1950s when Hollywood still made westerns with good fistfights, one movie outshines them all: The Big Country. In it, Gregory Peck plays a ship’s captain who has won the heart of a prosperous Texas rancher’s daughter. The ranch foreman, played by Charlton Heston, is in love with the girl, too, and always thought he would be the heir apparent and get her hand in marriage. He was led to believe such would be the case. The conflict between these two men over the rancher’s daughter culminates in the longest fistfight in the history of western movies. They slug it out in cinemascope with the big austere country of Texas spread out all around them. And the fight goes on and on, with neither man prevailing. It is excruciating to watch the action go on for so long. When they are too exhausted to continue, Gregory Peck asks the salient question, “Now, what did we prove?”
The answer is obvious—nothing. But I think there is a deeper point to the story: how should we deal with disappointment? The energies of the script lead us to understand that Heston’s character deals with his disappointment in all the wrong ways. In short, he needed a plan B if his plan to win the heart and hand of the fair maiden failed. He had no plan B and there was the rub.
An earlier American story is also about dealing with disappointment, this one with a better, though somewhat odd, outcome. Hawthorne’s story, The Minister’s Black Veil, is set in Puritan New England. A young pastor named Hooper has just taken over the community church and everyone loves him. He starts dating a sweet and beautiful parishioner named Elizabeth and they soon become engaged. However, one Sunday he comes to preach with a black veil draped about his face, obscuring all but his sardonic smile. Everyone tries to get him to shed the veil, but he is persistent. Of course, Elizabeth is disappointed with his eccentricity and breaks the engagement. Unlike Heston’s character, though, she has a plan B, in that she becomes a celibate nurse who spends her life in such service and ends up nursing old Hooper himself, still wearing the tattered veil on his deathbed.
On a somewhat similar note, one would think David of old would have been disappointed when he learned from God that his long term dream of building a temple would not come to pass after all—his son would get that job. Instead of being disappointed, though, David had a plan B. He expressed great gratitude to God for his faithfulness in the past, his nurture in the present and his promise to bless his descendants. Gratitude trumps disappointment every time.
So, if this were an advice column, I would say punching someone, as in The Big Country, to soothe disappointment solves nothing—what’s the point? One effective plan B, as in The Minister’s Black Veil, would be to find an area of service to give significance to your life. Finally, a perpetual attitude of gratitude won’t even allow disappointment’s ugly foot in the door.