Vail Daily column: Speak light
My goddaughter was born not too long ago. Amelia comes into the world just about as perfect as is possible: strong, hungry and beautiful. She’s lucky to have two of my friends as parents — a couple straddling the professional fence, as most of us do here in the valley. Nick is a pianist turned banker, and Hannah is a professional dance instructor and banker as well.
I recently visited them at home and could not help but start to think about what Amelia would grow up to be. For the first time in my life, I felt a small sliver of responsibility for a human being that could truly not take care of herself yet. Although the feeling was wildly positive, I was also somewhat worried. How would this baby eventually come to know me? As villain or hero? As aloof or engaging? As a has-been or a will-be? The truly worrisome thought was that this would be almost entirely within my control.
And so it came to be that this week I found myself sitting down and thinking through the things that I truly felt I wanted to imbue into another person, if I ever got the chance. What was the one quality that I possessed that I would desire to eventually become part of Amelia?
Some of these columns I write because they must be written for me to keep my sanity. Some of them, I put on paper to reassure or solidify my own thoughts. Certainly, some I write for the benefit of a small portion of the population that may need to hear it. I generate business and reputation from these columns, and hope you will grace me with the continued ability to do so as you have in the past with your feedback, phone calls and conversations. In the case of this column, I’m not sure who I’m writing for, but I hope that as I explore this idea in brief that you might find a little bit of something for yourself.
Nearly five years ago, I made the decision to be a tempered yet unabashed optimist. My word choice here is important to me. At one point in my life, I looked at optimistic people as unrealistic people. When passing through hard times, I looked at people that voiced positive emotions or thoughts to me and simply put, wanted to stab them in the ribs with a fork. In fact, given the opportunity and the presence of a fork, I might have done so. What I soon realized after a few years was that bad times are an inherent condition of being human.
I began to ask myself why it was that some people chose, even in the presence of difficulty, to be optimistic. I realized that intentional optimism is an act of faith, and that the act of choosing to be optimistic reinforces the fragility of the human attitude. Instead of bailing out or losing direction, optimism guides us on the path to continue to try to do what we had decided to do in the beginning. For surely, plans change … your decisions don’t. Optimism is the explosive device, the mental C4, that we use to blow through the walls and obstacles that stand between us and our eventual destinations, and by using it wisely, we can even help others blow through their own walls. Optimism is not the absence of adversity or the naivete of an easy life, rather, as a preacher once told me, it is the courage to speak light into darkness.
This is perhaps how I can best describe what it means to be a tempered optimist. It is the knowledge of the hardships and difficulty of the world, combined with the conscious decision to look on the bright side anyway. You speak, think, breathe and act in such a way to push light out into the darkness. In the moments when you are closest to breaking, you take a step in the direction of your goals anyway. You do not allow the stage of your mind to be dominated by darkness, but push out the darkness with thoughts of light. You press on. You have a winning attitude. You know that positive actions will eventually yield positive results.
One of my favorite stories of human optimism comes from Victor Frankl. Prior to WWII, Frankl was a psychiatrist, focusing on treating suicide and depression in Vienna. When the Nazis took over Austria in 1938, he was banned from treating “Aryan” patients due to his Jewish background. In 1941, despite turmoil in Austria, he married. He saw the writing on the wall. He knew that he could leave Austria for personal safety reasons, but he chose to stay with his aging parents and his patients. By September of 1942, he, his wife and his parents had been sent to Theresienstadt, a ghetto. By October of 1944, shortly after his father’s death in the ghetto, he, his wife and his mother found themselves transported to Auschwitz. Frankl kept working as a doctor through this whole ordeal. He was separated from his wife and mother, who later died in Bergen-Belsen and the Auschwitz camps.
After three years in the camps, Frankl was freed and returned to Vienna. It was there that he penned his masterpiece which we know in English as “Man’s Search for Meaning.” The book outlines the objective view of a psychiatrist when treating prisoners of a concentration camp. He determines, in the book, that life has meaning despite the worst of circumstances, and famously speaks light into darkness in the quote, “What is to give light must endure burning.”
I’ve had some dark times, like I imagine many of you have, and so I find myself speaking light into darkness a great deal … rather, sometimes I’m yelling light into darkness. I have not endured all that you have endured, and hope to avoid, in truth, the vast majority of the trials destined for our race. I will not, however, allow my life or the life of those around me to be dominated by the temptation to throw up our hands and quit. I just can’t allow myself to think small thoughts, speak weakly or pander to the mediocrity found in weak actions. I have chosen to be a tempered optimist in the gravest of circumstances, and by so doing, perhaps ease not only my own fears but the fears and burdens of others.
Life is a team sport, and although I am deeply disappointed that more of us do not see the truth in this, I hope that I can sway a few of the undecided majority in my favor. I will happily do this for a goddaughter someday, but perhaps more importantly right now, I’ll speak light into darkness for you.
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.