Friday, May 25, 2012

Hope vs Optimism

I recently had the privilege of spending a few days with a group of people who very much live my faith.   Although I have no problems living my faith day and day out, and of course everyone who knows me knows that is a big part of who I am, this past week was such a shot in the arm for me.   To spend time, laugh, share food and stories with  people who are as invested in their faith and their lives as I am was energizing.

One thing that really hit home  was the Cardinal's homily on Tuesday.  He spoke about many things but the one thing that I took away with me was the difference between optimism and hope.  I have always felt that through this journey, I have had a good and hopeful outlook.  Not just a positive attitude or a 'pollyanna' view of things but an actually hopeful belief that 'all will be well'.   That is what differentiates optimism from hope.  

Optimism is the belief that all will work out the way we want it to.   Hope is the belief that no matter what happens we trust that it will be o.k.    A very subtle but important difference.  

When I was first diagnosed I constantly heard people tell me that a positive attitude was very important in my healing.    No one explained exactly what that meant.   Was I suppose to go around with a smile on my face, because if so that certainly wasn't going to happen.   I didn't feel like smiling and I wasn't about to do it to make everyone else feel better.    Was I suppose to pretend that the thought of dying didn't scare the 'hell' out of me?   Was I to tell people 'don't worry' I will be fine?    I had to figure out  what this so important 'positive attitude' actually entailed.    Well, it meant none of these things, that I was sure of.   If it did then I would not be having a positive attitude.

I figured out through great thought and much prayer that this elusive idea of a positive attitude was really a state of hopefulness.   I had to accept that I had this terrible disease, but at the same time I had to come to a place that I knew no matter what happened my daughter and I would be fine.   I had to find a way to 'TRUST'.....that was what it mean to have a positive attitude, to have hope not just optimism.

Trust, that I would have the strength to do what I needed to do for the treatments.
Trust in the doctors and nurses who were there to help me.
Trust, that I would have the emotional and spiritual strength to get my daughter and I through whatever was ahead.
Trust, that even if I didn't 'make it', that my daughter would be looked after and that ultimately she would be fine (the hardest one to arrive at).
Trust in my body again, that had betrayed me, so that I could live without being in a constant state of anxiety.
Trust, finally in that fact that no matter what happens 'all will be well'......
Trust in God for me...that both my daughter and I will be looked after through love.

That was the difference between being optimistic about the future and hopeful.  Optimism would have meant that I would be cured, whole again, go back to the way things were.   That the ending would be a good one from the world's point of view.   Optimistic believes that the best state of being exists in this world.    It is a way of living that would be exhausting for someone with a serious disease mainly because it demands some kind of control over the circumstances.  It would be a disappointing way to live as nothing ever goes back to the way it was, even if you are cured and live for years.  Optimism does not demand acceptance.

Hope on the other hand allows for the reality to unfold with the consolation that no matter what happens it will be o.k.   It doesn't mean giving up or not doing what is necessary.  It only takes the burden of doing everything alone and then waiting to see if it was enough.   Hope allows for you to stand back at times and rest, knowing that you aren't jeopardizing your future.  Hope allows a sense of freedom and peace in a time when everything else seems to be bound up and in chaos.  Hope brings acceptance and so doesn't need to move backwards in order to find a sense of equilibrium.

I am thankful that I have found hope and do have that necessary positive attitude.    I only wish I didn't have to get cancer to come to see that we all need to have this disposition whether we are ill or is the way we are meant to live our lives no matter what.

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