Monday, February 10, 2003

Sunny Side Up

My dad always ordered his eggs sunny side up. On those spring days when he would take me to the woods mushrooming, we would stop at our usual country restaurant where he would proclaim, when asked how he wanted his eggs, “Sunny Side Up!” In my childhood innocence, I was sure he was making a statement, just for me, about our day together. It either never occurred to me or I suppressed understanding that sunny side up really was a way to prepare eggs. Once we were in the woods, he would have me go through this routine of removing my “normal eyes” and pulling my “mushroom eyes” out of my pocket and installing them for the task ahead. Always, before we left the house he'd ask, “Do you have your mushroom eyes?” This little ritual eliminated any “hoping” we'd find mushrooms. I just "knew" we would. With our mushroom eyes in, it was a done deal. All that was left to do was fill our bags.

Lately I've been hearing the word “hope” a lot. But every time someone expresses a hope to me, they seem to be caught up in worry or concern.

My dictionary defines “hope” as:
“the feeling that what is wanted can be had or events will turn out for the best. To look forward with desire and reasonable confidence.”
Now that seems pretty optimistic. However all but one of the examples in my dictionary were pretty disheartening. As though hope is a last resort. Here are the examples my dictionary used for hope:
“to give up hope”
“there is little or no hope of his recovery”
“the medicine was her last hope”
“her forgiveness is my constant hope”
“I hope that my work will be satisfactory”
“we are hoping against hope for a change in her condition”

Thinking that the definition of hope seemed so optimistic while the examples seemed so dire, I looked up "optimism."
“A disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.”

Well that got me thinking about the difference between “desire and reasonable confidence” as in hope, and “expect the most favorable outcome” as in optimism. So here are some of the differences between being hopeful and optimistic that are rattling around in my brain.

When I hope, I am often focusing on what I don't want to happen. My hope is used as a tool to put my fear at bay. I am trying to suppress a potential negative outcome with my hope. So hope becomes merely my obsession with beating the odds. 

When I am optimistic, I skip right over the negativism and expect the most favorable outcome. With optimism, that element of worry contained in my hope is not present.

Hope feels passive. My optimism does not deny struggle or loss but encourages me to embrace them and find the opportunities within. With optimism, I become an active participant in what goes on around me, both good and bad, because to remain the optimist I must dissect even the regrettable condition and find that in its parts there are some opportunities to be seized. I can do something.

But here's the big one for me. Hope asks me to focus on the future. It makes me wait. And when I'm focused on the future, I'm not fully present. When I'm optimistic I stay present. And in the present I can be responsible and responsive. I stay mindful of what I can do and who I am right now. And that's where I'm most creative.

So for me the difference seems to all boil down to this. It's like the third day of rain on an extended camping trip. I can sit in my tent and wait and hope for sun or I can grab my shampoo and treat my optimistic self to a shower. By the way, dad always said “mushroom eyes” work better in the rain.

"If the Sun and Moon should doubt,
They'd immediately go out." ~William Blake

"Barn's burnt I can see the moon." ~Masahide

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