The Realist Adjusts the Sails

d7b1f1aa969ce81859d5336bf2981d38One of my morning readings this morning was about the reality that everything in life is always changing. I am faced with loss all the time. I don’t always think of it as loss because I haven’t actually had my hands on it yet. But, sometimes  just the taste of ‘what could be’ turns into the bitter pill of loss. And loss – at some level – always expresses it’s misfortune in grief. Anger, denial, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance once again dance their chaotic, painful dance.

During my first marriage, we lived in Knoxville. My ex had a job where there were plenty of other singles and childless couples who were making their way through the often challenging schedule that is typical of sportswriters. We hung out, hiked in the Smokies, supported each other and became great friends. I remember it as one of those idyllic times when we had a great ‘family.’ Eventually, one or more got married and had kids. One or two moved away. One morning I woke up, and my community had disappeared. I felt such a sense of loss. In the naivete of youth, I somehow thought that everything was set. I’ve since gone through many, many changes in community, residences, employment and romantic partnerships. The one thing I know now is that nothing ever stays the same. And, I’ve learned to dance the dance of grief much more comfortably. It is what it is … and then it changes.

When I left my call center job in Knoxville, my staff gave me a paperweight as a parting gift. I don’t ordinarily pay much attention to gifts like that because they are usually just sort of a generic gift that marks a milestone. But this one opened my eyes – perhaps for the very first time – to the way people saw my approach to life. A sailboat was etched on its surface, and it said, “The pessimist curses the wind, the optimist hopes it will change, the realist adjusts the sails.” I still have this paperweight in my office. I’ve moved it from Seattle to Michigan to Indiana and now here. It reminds me of who I am. Because sometimes I don’t want to adjust the sails. I just want the damned wind to stop.

I often think that the world believes being an optimist is the superior role. And, sometimes I even fake optimism to get past my somewhat pessimistic streak. It’s sort of like the ship that’s leaning too far to one side, you know? I may need to move as far as I can on the other side until I get the boat balanced. I like standing dead in the middle of reality. Well, like may be a strong word. I’m most comfortable in reality. Well, maybe comfortable is a little strong, too. Let’s say that my preference is to live in reality. When my second marriage was failing so miserably, I would try to be optimistic, and I prayed and prayed and prayed for things to get better … or to help me pretend that things were better. Ultimately, I had to face the reality of what was happening and start to dig myself out. If I’d faced reality sooner, maybe I wouldn’t

Thankfully, today, I enthusiastically own that label of realist. I do find myself mired in pessimism from time to time, and I may swing to optimism occasionally, but I know I’m a realist. I want to know the facts – all of them. I feel the most alive when I’m facing the music. Tell me the truth, and I can deal with it. I’d much prefer to face the cold hard truth than always wonder what the hell is going on – or worse, be in denial that anything is percolating under the surface. I know sometimes people are uncomfortable with my tell it like I see it manner, but it’s the only way I know to operate. Perhaps its a symptom of having a life-long dance with anxiety. If I know what’s going on, I don’t have to be anxious about it.  Let the chips fall where they may.

The last couple of months have been windy. There have been a couple of times when I thought I might capsize. I do have to say it’s been interesting. At times it’s been fun. And at times I’ve been heartbroken on a number of fronts. Luckily, I have a lot of capable shipmates, a pretty darn good background in sailing stormy seas and an adaptable sail. When it gets too bad, I just close the sail and ride it out. Today, I think I’ll open it back up and see where the wind is blowing. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to change – sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. I trust my inner compass. I’ll adjust the sails.

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