Monday, August 19, 2013

Weeds Happen

In Candide, Voltaire writes about the journey of a young man that has been raised in a world of optimism. When this life is suddenly turned upside down, he finds himself in a pain-filled struggle with the world that is a much harsher place than he was led to believe. He was unprepared for reality.

In the end, Voltaire embraces the philosophy that optimism creates a state where we are constantly seeking the ideal future, which is only ideal because it has yet to be created. And if we are not constantly looking forward, we are pining for the better times in the past.

Voltaire writes: "Optimism is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst." How true. The only time we really call on optimism in our lives is when things are going badly. No one is ever eating ice cream at Disneyland and secretly thinking: It’s all going to be better tomorrow if I can just get through today.

Voltaire tells us that we must live in the present, where we should "cultivate our garden." Clean out the weeds, so the garden can grow. You can't just hope the weeds go away. You can't just think about how the garden looked before the weeds took hold. You should only focus on how your garden is right at this moment. Optimism is a crutch we sometimes use to avoid taking action today.

Lately, I've been encountering the word optimistic a lot. “We are optimistic that this medication will work.” “I’m optimistic because I haven’t had a relapse in two years.” “You should be optimistic because this new therapy wasn’t even available five years ago.” But here’s the thing.  I shouldn’t be optimistic. Not because I should be pessimistic. I should be neither.  Because being either pessimistic or optimistic means you are not focusing on today. Being optimistic or pessimistic means putting energy into what might happen, not what is happening.

Today, I am feeling pretty good. Today my hand is still bothering me. Today I am feeling a little sad about things. Today, I have a lot of work to do.

This last weekend, one of my dearest friends reminded me that, as each day starts, you begin as a completely different person. You are not the same person that went to sleep last night and you will not be the same person you wake up being tomorrow morning. The goal, therefore, should be to use each day to find your happiness and find your true self. That is a garden worth tending.

In essence, it is what it is.  I know it is a trite, overused phrase. But it is the best one to convey the sense of acceptance of a situation. The recognition that some things cannot be changed.  My cat will never be a tiger. I will never be an astronaut. My life will never be smooth sailing.

Some people don’t like that saying because it suggests the surrender of control. It implies that one has no say over what is happening in their respective lives.

But the truth is, we really have no control over most thing. I have no control over having MS. I cannot change the fact that bad things have happened. And all the optimism in the world will not prevent bad things from happening again. They will not be the same bad things. Tending your garden includes learning from your mistakes.

I am just trying, with all my might, to pay attention to the now, without spending energy wishing I could change the past and without worrying what the future holds. I am trying to weed my garden, which makes room for new growth.

My son started 4th grade today. Before I dropped him off, I was talking to him about the school year ahead. I was telling him about the things I remembered about being in 4th grade. Books I read, field trips I went on, friends I made. I asked him if he was excited to start.

He said, “Meh. I’m excited I got to wear my new shirt. I’m glad you are walking me in to find my classroom. I hope my teachers are nice. I’m bummed summer is over.”

Then he said “Ask me again tomorrow.” Yeah, I think he’s got the Voltaire thing down.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. I had not thought of Voltaire in a long time. I love when classic literature proves relevance in today's thoughts. The hard part of living in the now is what the lack of planning can do for tomorrow.

    Unfortunately, tomorrow rarely looks exactly we think it will, so our plans need always be in flux. I usually strive to work and live with both strategy and tactics. The strategy part of my mind is thinking how I want tomorrow to look and what I need to do to make it so. The tactics part of me is living now, enjoying now, and constantly tinkering.