Call me naive. You wouldn’t be the first. But I’d rather be called naive than jaded. I’d rather be content than despairing. I’m not always optimistic. Sometimes I am a painful realist, like when my kids use an upended bucket as a table by the side of our rural road to sell painted pop can tabs. Or when my husband determines that mushroom farming will be a lucrative side business after talking to a local chef. They are optimists, eternal dreamers and believers in the unlikely. It is what I love most about my family. That pop can tab sale made $8 thanks to generous neighbors I don’t even know by name. So I suppose optimism pays off; I can see it sticking its tongue out in glorious triumph at my realism right now. I can live with being a realist, as long as I have proof enough to encourage optimism when it is needed most. What I can’t survive under is pessimism. Life is hard. Days are long, nights are dark, and sometimes it seems easiest to just sink into despairing hand-wringing. But I can’t.
I’ve had those moments. Sometimes they were my moments: lying on the rough carpet of the local hospital waiting for word on my grandfather’s life; sitting on my couch watching for headlights signaling my husband’s safe return in the middle of the night; waiting to hear about health, or employment, words or numbers to wrap securely around me and remind me of hope. Sometimes they were the moments of others: a random shooting just miles from my house that took innocent, unsuspecting lives; an accident that left someone maimed; senseless violence and shocking calamities that unleashed fears as yet unrecognized, gave voice to nameless worries in the subconscious. At times, the pessimism rose up like flooding waters, compressing my breath and threatening to overtake me.
But the flood always retreats. The painful moments wane into the mundane daily life and are eventually overshadowed by bright moments of mirth. In my realism, I put my head down and forge through those dark moments. I wrap myself into myself, protecting my small internal hope from the dangers that assail it, and I press on. I can’t release myself to pessimism. Why?
Oh, there are so many answers here. Going to those dark places in moments of fear and anguish opens up all of the dark places I have been before. It is a path that once taken, cannot be easily left, and I don’t want to revisit the forests of my prior desperations. I like it better here, in the light of the open meadow; even as I recognize that the woods lie ahead, full of unknown dangers, I’m going to soak up the sun while I can. I also no longer travel alone. I lead a pack of unsuspecting travelers who take their cues from me. They tread lightly, or run ahead, based on my determination of the wind. I want them to be free to run, free to discover treasures along the way without sensing dangers that should not concern them. I give them tools, guidelines for safety, but I don’t want to saddle them with worry that is beyond their tiny souls.
I can’t stray to pessimism because I know better. My soul trusts that there is goodness still in the world. My faith believes that there is a Plan that guides my way. Losing myself to doubt and despair calls into question all that I hold dear, and while I may question the moment, I don’t question the years.
But mostly, I can’t revert to darkness because I prefer the light. Whether it comes in long summer days or dappled lightly through a leafy canopy, whether it is streaming through rain-soaked clouds or rising over morning hills, it is mine. In the darkness, I can remember the warmth of it. I can see the first tiny rays as they crest the horizon, and I anticipate the days ahead.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33