Sunday, May 10, 2015

Reckless Hope

Last week, I went to a Derby party that one of my friends hosted. I made a cake to bring to the party, and while the recipe was not difficult, it was time-consuming. The batter was thick and heavy and had to be mixed by hand with a whisk rather than an electric mixer, and I made it at my parents' house, which meant that I could not sit down for the entirety of the process of making the cake and the glaze, because if I had, my parents' dog from hell would have eaten the ingredients. I also shaved my legs that day, for the first time of the summer. This meant that I was on my feet for essentially 4 solid hours, some of it spent contorting into impossible positions, which is something that would have exhausted me even before the arthritis.

By the time I got to the party, my feet and legs hurt every time I stood, and my arms and shoulders were sore from mixing the batter and having to hold the bowl out of the dog's reach while mixing it and pouring it into the pan. I spent much of the evening sitting in my friend's large, unfenced backyard, talking around the bonfire, and watching my friends' kids run around. When I went inside to watch the race, the living room was standing-room only, and my feet screamed in protest the entire time until I was able to sit again.

One of my friends has a toddler, a sweet little girl who will be 2 in a couple months. Since the yard was not fenced, and we had a fire going, she needed close supervision, and I was worn out just watching her parents chasing and corralling her.

The next morning, still sore and stiff, I had a bit of an existential crisis.

If that baby had been mine, there was no way I would have been able to supervise her effectively the night before.

So I wondered: is it already too late for me to have a baby? Is motherhood something I should just give up on?

These are not new questions to me, and when I cried over them for a little while that Sunday morning, it was not for the first time.

But then, a couple days later, I saw this:

Gilda Radner, of course, never had children. She struggled to get pregnant, had two miscarriages following fertility treatments, and then she died of ovarian cancer at the age of 42. And yet, she remained optimistic. When I pulled up the quote above, I found another from her autobiography, published just a couple years before her death: "I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity." These are not the words of someone who has thrown in the towel.

I have never been a gambler. My grandparents took me to a casino on my 21st birthday, and my grandpa loved to tell the story for years afterward of handing control of a slot machine he'd been playing over to me. He'd built up a balance of a couple hundred dollars, and he told me that I could continue playing, or I could cash out and keep the money. I didn't even have to think about it. I took the money and ran. If I had continued playing, I might have ended up with nothing - although, considering it wasn't my money to begin with, I wouldn't have been any worse off than when I started. At least by walking away, though, I ended up with a couple hundred dollars.

But if I'd continued playing, what if I'd hit the jackpot?

This is a pretty apt metaphor for how I live my life in general. I am, in general, a realist. I keep one foot on the ground at all times. I try to not ever get my hopes up, my prognosis is always guarded, and I'm only ever cautiously optimistic. It's something that I've always taken a little bit of pride in, to be honest. I wouldn't be caught unprepared if my hopes weren't realized.

Because hope is scary. Hope is fucking terrifying. It's going out on a limb, allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable, taking the risk that your dreams will fall flat. Pure, unqualified, unguarded hope is an enormous gamble.

But when I read that Gilda Radner quote, I had the most radical, earth-shaking thought:

Don't I have the right to be infinitely optimistic?

And it occurred to me that not getting my hopes up had never actually insulated me from pain and loss. It never made it better, when something didn't work out, that I'd tried to keep myself from wanting it too much. So it doesn't make sense, does it, to keep trying to tamp down on my hopes when it doesn't offer much protection anyway.

So I'm not going to do it anymore.

It's a huge shift in thinking for me, a whole new worldview, and it's not easy. Every time I think about the things I hope for, I have to silence the voice in my head that says, "Yes, but, what if...?" But I'm committed to making this change. I'm done with cautious optimism and guarded prognoses and not getting my hopes up. Maybe things won't work out, but then again, maybe I'll hit the jackpot.

I'm going to be infinitely optimistic. I'm going to be recklessly hopeful. And I invite you to join me.

(I'll probably still leave the slot machines for you to play, though.)