An excerpt from “Daisies” by Mary Oliver:
…What do I know.
But this: it is heaven itself to take what is given,
to see what is plain; what the sun
lights up willingly; for example–I think this
as I reach down, not to pick but merely to touch–
the suitability of the field for the daisies, and the
daisies for the field.
After realizing how my skewed “sunny-side up” view of the world contributed to the breakup of my marriage (because I simply wasn’t able to see what was in front of my eyes since I was so comfortable in my own view of the world), I decided I should probably tone down my rosy-colored outlook. It seemed that I would be better served by having a more realistic, perhaps even more somber, perspective. I began to wonder if I even really felt the events of my breakup, since even in the dark times so many moments of beauty came bubbling through. And even in the midst of those first few awful days, I could still see so much good on the horizon. What was wrong with me, I wondered, that I didn’t cry and scream and yell and melt into a ball of sorrow? Instead, I wandered gardens and embraced friends and enjoyed my children.
My insistence on optimism is a long-honed skill that stems from the difficulties of living with a disability and the residue of having survived cancer, as well as a variety of other personal setbacks. I simply can’t seem to sit in the midst of a storm without seeing a silver lining. I deliberately choose happiness over sorrow, every time. Like the poem fragment above, I believe in “taking what is given” and seeing the light, whatever difficulties are thrown my way.
But I don’t sit around with my head in the sand denying life’s cruelties, either. For example, for my dissertation research I purposefully chose to study the awfulness of life. Children suffering from horrific incurable diseases. Scores of soldiers dying for want of care. I pore over case studies of bodies mangled by machinery, or injured by the foolishness of quack remedies. I hold these stories in my heart, trying to make sense of a world where people suffer so often and so deeply (and, so needlessly)…
But I think you can know the awful and still see the beauty. Which reminds me of a favorite quote from The Man of La Mancha:
When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness…Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!