As is my custom, my first waking act was to raise the shade covering my rear door and survey the yard. Just this past week I’d taken advantage of favorable weather conditions to ready the yard for the growing season. And quickly, signs of new life were appearing everywhere. Happily, I saw that the red bud was sprouting its delicate red and pink flowers. I caught sight of two robins raiding my yard to pilfer blades of dried and yellowed ornamental grass, which I had cut back to promote this year’s new growth, and carry these away in their beaks for the nest they are building a couple of houses down the street from mine. And, virtually overnight, the magnolia’s annual explosion had produced hundreds of flowers, whose petals gently but steadily floated to the ground to settle on my freshly mowed grass (however, the appearance of the beautiful flowers is a certain harbinger of impending gusty winds and hard rains).
Still sleepy, I momentarily felt confusion. What does fresh snow have to do with new growth?
I felt the slight disappointment that comes with having mistakenly taken for granted something that one has no right or reason to take for granted. In this instance, for example, along with the sudden flurry of so much “green” activity, the fact that it already is more than half-way through the month of April and that Major League Baseball is now in the third week of its Championship Season, I assumed our early Spring warmth would continue unabated.
Every day we make assumptions. And it turns out that many of our assumptions about things are simply wrong. The mistaken assumption might be trivial, as evidenced by today’s bizarre but most assuredly passing appearance of fresh snow. After all, my hometown has a deserved reputation and a long history of unseasonable cold weather. What made me believe this year would be different?
The mistaken belief could be profound, such as my assumption that Lee and I were going to happily grow old together. Lee had a problematic and lengthy history of serious health issues before developing the deadly pancreatic cancer that took her from me. What was my basis to assume we would enjoy a long and happy life together?
My assumptions tend to line up with who I am as a person. If you have followed these scribblings, then you will know I am an optimist. Specifically, I enjoy what I think the experts call “dispositional optimism,” that is, a global expectation that more good things than bad things will happen in the future. The expert consensus seems to be that optimism is a personality trait.
Regardless, my assumption is that most other folks are optimists, too. Certainly, it seems preferable to the alternative of being a pessimist, always assuming a bad outcome. Furthermore, there are abundant scholarly and scientific sources that support the notion my optimism really results in better outcomes, for example, improved health outcomes, even perhaps, a longer life. We optimists tend to assume that good outcomes not only will recur but will extend to other future events. And, rightly or wrongly, we believe we play a role in causing or, at least, shaping them. As an optimist, I view bad events as impermanent and due to causes external to me.
I fully acknowledge that being an optimist has reasonable limits. Otherwise, I would risk becoming what is referred to in parlance as “unrealistic,” because my upbeat assumptions and expectations do not always match the objective evidence.
Indeed, the Foundation for Critical Thinking emphasizes there is a “need to make logical inferences based on sound assumptions.” (Emphasis added.) I agree. Therefore, I feel comfortable inferring that, despite a little aberrant snow, Spring is still well on its way here. My underlying assumption remains that it is time for Spring to arrive.
I’m not blind to the reality that life is full of adversity. For many years, I walked with Lee through her numerous cancers and other serious health problems. In the back of my mind there was always the gnawing fear that our long-range plans might be imperiled. Yet, I inevitably succeeded in remaining optimistic. And it seemed that my optimism was being rewarded whenever Lee inevitably returned to health. Suddenly one day, I realized she was getting worse. I tried to stay optimistic, but a time came when it became impossible for me to ignore the physical deterioration I could see with own eyes, the failing voice I could hear with my own ears. I could feel that Lee’s life energy was gradually dissipating.
With my optimism for another good outcome diminishing by the day, I quickly turned to hope. Sadly, hope wasn’t enough to pull Lee through.