caution and optimism


Cautious optimism is a marvelous contradiction. I split my time between robust positivity and “the sky is falling” trepidation and fear. The idea that I can be both at the same time, that I can be cautiously optimistic, is a uniquely human conceit. I exercise caution and expand into optimism, separate rivers running side by side in me that fork in reality where perception is irrelevant and living happens.

As for my optimism, it is like music swelling. I look around at all the evidence of beauty and favor in my life and think, “it’s all coming, it’s all possible.” I feel fluttery and curious like a baby waking up from a solid afternoon nap. I’m giddy with expectation as the story of my successes waltz around my brain. Do you remember when you were five years old and your body moved all the time for pleasure? At that age, I loved pushing off the couch and kicking my feet up into the air, like a foal. That ecstatic, just because it feels good and nobody’s watching release of energy is optimism.

Caution, optimism’s imposing, impressive big brother, watches me kick my proverbial legs in the air and disapproves. Slow down. What do you think you’re doing? You look ridiculous. Get a grip. Caution is experience. It’s smart and street-wise. It has saved my life a couple times and made me grow and change. But cautious optimism is self-cancelling; caution and optimism exist in each other’s absence.

Being human, we want a feeling that will prepare us for feeling. We want a renewable warranty, insurance, a poly-flexy-ambidexterity that ensures our readiness and poise. We want to be cautiously-optimistic; daunted and undaunted by life’s uncontrollable outcomes. Last week when Gammie was in the hospital, I wanted to stay out in front of the pain. I wanted to caution my optimistic heart that change is the only constant . But then a picture of her arrived in a text message – her remarkably beautiful but drawn face, her hair brushed, her red lipstick, tubes in her arm, smile on her face – and I wept. Caution broke and optimism poured out and I felt an unbraced feeling – the vertiginous fall after the fork in the rivers – presence.