I’ve always been one to pay attention to subtle signs in my daily life. Lately I’ve been seeing pregnant women everywhere. If I wasn’t so far past the nesting-stage of life, I might be concerned: I can still recall how seeing puppies everyday at one point triggered the menagerie I have now !
I think what I’m seeing and feeling – perhaps how I’m choosing to interpret my senses — in these (mostly young) women is Optimism. Having taken the leap myself once, I’m inclined to ask (silently, of course), “Are you sure you know what this means?” A tad bit late for that question, but still. Little Thing 1, 2 or 3 will be a lifetime experience, starting with the crapshoot of whose genetic code they’ll have and whether they’ll be pliant, sweet little darlings, or, what feels like a life-long Labor of Love. Life is never the same after welcoming children into the world. It’s one of the Big Adjustments.
But Nature, in its wisdom, has a plan. In addition to those wonderful hormones that soon blur the memory of labor pains, everything and everyone around Baby takes a backseat, so that Life – for a while, anyway — is rainbow-hued and harmonious in its rhythm. Without Optimism, we’d never make half of the momentous life decisions that we do. Which is why nurturing it is so helpful, at any age, in any circumstance.
The Irish essayist George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950) has always been best-known for his keen observations and acerbic wit. Shaw was the first to write the statement (later modified by Oscar Wilde), “Youth is wasted on the young”. Shaw mused that so very many actions we take in our youthful experience are done blindly, haphazardly, and with a kind of idiotic hope. (Shaw had very existential leanings, along with similar thinkers of his time). Shaw’s fantasy, if I can for a brief minute give my own interpretation, was a wise and experienced mind inside a young, strong body. Yeah: not going to happen until we all become bionic. Still, I take his point: it would’ve been really nice to know then – in my 20’s, say – what I know now, about Life.
“Youth may (in more than a few ways, from a curmudgeonly perspective) be wasted on the young”, as Shaw wrote; but Optimism is not the sole property of any age group. Regardless of how many days might be left on the calendar (no one has a lock on that piece of information), feeling like each day is a clean slate, a new opportunity, a fresh “take” is always within reach.
When still an undergraduate, one of my favorite classes was a philosophy course I took as part of my General Ed. The textbook for the class, a ‘gem’ still in my library and well-thumbed, features an essay from Ralph Waldo Emerson (another vintage thinker and writer that many others have since gently plagiarized).
Emerson tells us how we can, every day, jump-start our Hope and Optimism. For me, attempting to nurture optimism in my heart gets a boost when I silence my Inner Critic. Here’s a snippet of Emerson’s “meditation” that I keep by my bedside and usually close my day with:
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
So gentle. So patient and understanding. So nurturing. So full of hope and optimism. Now — more than ever — words we need to breathe in, as we exhale our worries.