Monday, December 27, 2010

Sugar Free Optimism

Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music -- the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.
-- Henry Miller
Christmas is over and I don't care. I never have, even as a kid. I have always loved the holiday, but I have never had a problem saying goodbye to it.

For years I would listen to people being depressed about the end of Christmas and I would think there was something wrong with me not to feel the same, but I have come to realize that I am, as surprising as it might seem to some of my friends and family who hear me complain and critique the world a lot, an optimist.

For me, Christmas has never been an oasis in a mundane, Death Valley of a world, but just a cool thing in a calendar filled with both remembered and impending coolnesses. I can only attribute this perspective to an endlessly curious mind which causes me to think the next treasure must always just be around the corner.

I feel about the world the way Miller does in the quotation above. Those treasures have always seemed to be there for the taking, as long as I am able to locate them and dig them up. Every day is fascinating and every day is filled with beauty or, at least, profundity (which, whether beautiful or disturbing is moving and, so, satisfying to me). I don't need Christmas, but I do appreciate its sparkle and wonder -- now, more than ever, seeing it through the eyes of my kids, cliched though that may sound.

I almost cringe to call myself an optimist. Optimists are whispy-haired, vacuously-grinning dunderheads who like to spout off about making lemonade out of lemons. Their philosophy is an arm that shovels scoops of sugar down the throats of anyone within reach and leaves its victims sick.

My optimism is a little different and, hopefully, more dignified. I see it more as transcendence than as bulldogging through misery with a forced smile. For instance, I find myself thinking, during a lousy day at work: Well, in a few hours, you will be home with the family and this will be a thing of the past, just as I used to think, as a kid, Well, Christmas is over, but at least you have a week off from school to play with your friends. There always something to look forward to. These thoughts dull the pain of the moment and pay off in the future.

This, too, shall pass, whether it is good or bad and, either way, there is more good to find out there, so long as you are willing to put in the effort to find it. It doesn't always get shoved in your face like the atmospheric joy of a holiday or a Jell-O shot at a party.

My optimism is not so much making lemonade out of lemons as it is believing there is lemonade at the end of every long desert walk and using that confidence to make through the heat.

If one sees his world as a place full of wonder, interest and eventual rewards, one will never be bored and one will never need the stimulus of manufactured joy that is a holiday, a party, a meaningless sexual encounter or -- dare I go so far ? -- a chemical high. One will never need to beg for things to make life tolerable if one can find these things in the daily journey.

People who need diversion, in my opinion, simply don't have confidence or vision. They are reaching for drugs when a high speed bike-ride can give them the same high and with less consequence. It's okay for the decorations to come off of the tree. There is little as beautiful as a lonely pine of a green broken only by sunlight.

(Hat tip, Frank Wilson)

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