February 8, 2007
It's never as cold as it could be
In these cold, dark days of winter, it can be difficult to find a reason to get out of bed. Between the cold and the wind and the icy sidewalks, you can make a pretty convincing argument against it. I've read in different places that the last couple weeks of January are the most depressing of the year, due to the short days and the inevitable disintegration of New Year's resolutions. But this time of year is not for the depressed. This is the time of year for optimism. For example, do you notice the snow in your shoes, or the snow on the pine tree over there that suddenly looks like something out of a painting? It's far too easy to notice negative aspects of life, and far too easy to lose sight of what is really important.
An essay by International Master Josh Waitzkin, entitled "The Downward Spiral" relates a story and an image that seems appropriate:
"So I was waiting for the light, thinking about the ideas that I would soon be discussing with my students, when I noticed that a woman wearing headphones had walked right into oncoming traffic and was completely oblivious to the chaotic street that she was crossing. Just then, as she looked right, a bicycle bore down on her from the left. The biker lurched away at the last second, but still gave her a harmless bump. This was a critical moment in the woman's life. She had a near miss and could easily have walked away unscathed if she had just stepped back onto the pavement--but instead she turned to the fading bicyclist and cursed his impudence. There she was, standing with her back to the traffic on 33rd and Broadway screaming at the back of a biker who just performed a miracle to avoid smashing into her. If that moment could be frozen in time it would be a terrifying image for us all to weep over and learn from. A taxi cab was the next to speed onto the scene--the woman was struck from behind and sent reeling 10 feet into the air."
The message is clear. Spend all your time worrying about the small problems and near misses of life, and a big one will run you over from behind.
It's hard to keep fighting the good fight when life's curveballs seem to come faster than you can swing at them. The supposed motto of optimists is that things will always get better. I have a different one, that I think is the true essence of optimism, of seeing the good side of things: Things can always get worse. It seems a bit contradictory, but for something to get worse, something good has to become bad. That implies that the good things are there, or else we wouldn't be afraid of losing them.
So don't completely ignore the small problems of life, but always realize that the bigger ones are out there. Keep things in perspective, enjoy the important things, and Spring won't seem quite so far away.