I have come to realize that I’m an inveterate optimist. I also accept my contradictions as a pragmatic idealist. These orientations keep me from going insane. They are the wellspring of any equanimity I possess. They create the space for me to take action and risk being known.
Those are the pretty words I use in polite company. The reality is that it feels like shoveling shit. You remember the old joke don’t you? It goes like this:
Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. In an attempt to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile and began digging.
“What are you doing?” the psychiatrist asked.
“With all this manure” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”
You see… instead of a room filled with horse manure, my shit is everywhere, piled high and deep. And, if that weren’t enough, other people throw shit at me too. Lots of it. Sometimes they’re shoveling their shit on top of my shit. <sigh> So, I pick up my shovel and get to work. I have never found a pony. I probably never will. I’m not sure that I would know what to do with a pony if I found one. But, there I am shoveling away. I shovel because of what I have found.
I’ve found all manner of things that I never expected. I have found creative ideas. I’ve found that clearing a path through is not a means to escape but a route to connection. I’ve discovered that other people will shovel shit with you and thereby become dear friends. I have found love in the middle of a shit show. Most importantly, I found myself by way of my own excrement. I figured out how to own my shit. I learned that I could produce less and shovel more. I found peace knowing my back is strong, my shovel is wide and my friends are willing.
And so, I shovel shit. No, it’s not easy. It stinks. It hurts my back. It’s exhausting. What makes me an optimist is that I believe my efforts are effective even when I can’t see over my pile. I’m a pragmatic idealist because I smell the excrement fully, I understand that it’s not a pile of roses, and yet I know from balls to bones that wading in with shovel in hand is necessary to joyful living. I will even carry my shovel to your shit pile. We can uncover the joy that comes with struggling through life together.