"To the question whether I am a pessimist or an optimist I answer that my knowledge is pessimistic, but my willing and hoping are optimistic. "
~ Albert Schweitzer
I recently came across an expression that has taken up occupancy in the corners of my thoughts, popping up at the oddest moments. "Realistic optimism"*, the term for at attitude that can support us as we face the challenges of aging in the midst of a "forever young" movement**, initially seemed an oxymoron. Whenever I watch the news these days - a plethora of chaos and cruelty, fear and hatred - I have to fight off a sense of despair that can threaten to shroud the day in a dark consuming cloud. When I receive a call saying another friend or family member is struggling with loss or incipient loss, it's hard to stay optimistic. When I struggle to call forth a word or name that I know I know, I experience a moment of anxiety.
But then, an e-mail arrives with a photo of my nephew's beautiful children, or a friend's daughter, a lovely young bride. Or I hear from someone I don't recognize telling me how the course he took from me years ago influenced him to be a better husband and father. Or, surprise, surprise, a local TV station shares a story of compassion or generosity. Or - best of all, I look at this week's calendar and see three dates with my husband and realize once again that we have found our way into a deeper, gentler friendship than I would ever have expected. We have learned how to discuss our vastly different political views (well, much of the time); we laugh at the same jokes; we like the same people; we enjoy The Voice together - he a Country Western fan, me an Opera fan. Go figure?!
Realistic optimism - accepting the reality that the world seems, no, is more dangerous, that bad things happen to good people, that we and those we love will decline and die. Yet, AT THE SAME TIME, remembering there are reasons to be optimistic. There are moments of unbelievable beauty and unexpected gestures of kindness and decency from strangers. There are the people we love who return our love many times over. Old friends who forgive our forgetfulness. New friends who open their hearts and homes to us. Another opportunity to learn, another possibility to contribute. AT THE SAME TIME.
So, when John and I drive to meet friends on Thanksgiving Day for a splendid buffet that eliminates the need to cook, and we take turns sharing gratitudes from the past year as has become our tradition, high on my list will be discovering this concept of realistic optimism. Not always easy to maintain, but always, always a blessing.
* realistic optimism - from The Wonder of Aging by Michael Gurian
**forever young society - from Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein