A few years ago a friend of mine told me he had recently been diagnosed with cancer. He didn’t have an early diagnosis and would be going through a significant effort. He knew and expressed that he would be losing a lot in exchange for a chance to continue living. He expressed his desire to live and help others along the way.
He decided that he would be “irrationally optimistic” even during this time. He accepted quickly what was happening to him, he was grateful for an opportunity to live on, and he was determined to serve his purpose.
Years before I met him and heard of the term “irrational optimism”, I was close friends with a woman who developed terminal brain cancer with a five percent survival rate. We had met at work and lived fairly close to each other, so we car pooled and learned a lot about each other on the morning drive. She called me with the news of her diagnosis and told me “not to worry” as I won’t be driving alone in the mornings for too long. Her determination and attitude were nothing short of incredible. She changed her life, her routine, her diet and became hyper focused on basics of survival, her family and her emotional state.
She decided to take a day at a time, a moment at a time, work through transactions and be grateful and thankful. As she went through the process of treatment, she always stayed positive and essentially irrationally optimistic. She beat the odds and not only beat the early survival rates but beat the five year rates as well. Thankfully, she is still alive today!
Through my life, I have seen so many people die from cancer, close circles and beyond. The reality of illness is the many factors that come into play beyond attitude and mindset alone. While this is true, I believe attitude and this optimistic outlook contributes to successfully overcoming dark times. Being optimistic takes constant reframing and practice. It calls for taking everything being thrown at you and finding a string of hope to pull through it. When something takes your normal life and blows a hole in it, you have to make decisions.
I recognize we are all living in the multitude of variability and whether we are religious or not, there are many things our of our control. All said, the basic choice is whether or not we choose to be a victim. If the decision is to overcome whatever comes at us and choose to be irrationally optimistic, we can take control over our reaction and response. Having faith in G-d can help people in these cases as well because of the same reason concerning the perception of control. If we put faith in G-d, we can release ourselves and put ourselves in G-d’s hands. I’ll make clear to you that I am not challenging or questioning any persons decision to have faith. What I am saying is that the person makes a choice to put themselves into a different mental state or mode. The mental state and decision to put themselves in a position of taking ownership is where I am focused. One can argue that giving the control to G-d or a higher power is giving up control or the power to change a mental state. To give power or to give control, a person would have to believe they have something to give. This means, an act of faith within itself is taking control over the situation. Whether or not the person chooses to give it from there is up to them. What is clear about being irrationally optimistic is that the person choosing optimism has something left to do.
Point 1 and 2
Becoming Irrationally Optimistic (Finding a “string of hope to pull”)
Point 3 Reframe Constantly
Probably one of the more difficult posts to write as the emotional complexity is hard to take from feeling to words. There are two parts to this portion of the post. The first is the active and daily realization that I will die and that my wife and my children will die. When I think about it, I certainly don’t want to write about it. I want to run from it. I can’t run from it or hide from it. The image above is the grave of my grandfather, Howard Cohen. I hadn’t gone to the grave until I was an adult. When I walked up to it, I knew where I was physically heading but I didn’t know what would happen to me emotionally. Unfortunately, I didn’t know my grandfather and I heard he was a very cool guy. I was at a service for my great-uncle when I asked about Howard and where he was. As I cleared some of the other stones and walked up to his grave it occurred to me very unnaturally that I am also Howard Cohen. I felt like the blood in my head was being drawn down to my core and everything was fuzzy. Was I having a panic attack? I was nauseous and dizzy and slumping over. All of this life amounted to this stone with my name on it. What will I become? It was a defining moment for me in that it was literally a stake in the ground with my name on it. Who will I become from here? What do I want to be? Who will remember me? What happens when I am forgotten? All of these were the foundation of a new set of tools from an unopened and never before explored toolbox.
Unraveling the complexity of the emotions and the whole awakening in a sense of the truth of the mortal me created a new shit shield against what I affectionately call “the dumb.” We get wrapped up in so much trivial bullshit that we forget what is important. Not until we are faced with something that overwhelms us and literally tears up the fabric of our comfortable normal, do we examine this on our own.
The ReFRAME – Comes with leveraging the knowledge of our mortality within itself. If we come to truly realize that today is a gift and not a promise of tomorrow, we can then use this to determine how we behave and how we perceive what is important.
It isn’t easy at all to live in a constant state of awareness. I believe our minds actively try to hide our mortality from us. For me, I start to forget that I am only human and that I have a death date. I start to look at what I am going through in my life and I actively find that I am juggling multiple problems. Each of these problems brings complexity and each of them have me spinning and distracted. If I look at my watch or the calendar, I see the time slipping. The problems steal my awareness of what matters. As they pile up and my anxiety builds, I start to get lost in them and obsess about how to manage them and stop them. I have asked., “why is this happening to me?” I am certainly no stranger to allowing myself to be a victim. I haven’t had the easiest life but I know I am lucky. As soon as I start falling into the pit of despair and spinning down the hole that could easily have me find myself under a blanket hiding, I now come to realize and reframe what is important.
My grandfather Howard’s grave is a fairly long drive for me but my maternal grandparents are buried less than an hour away. I didn’t know him at all but I knew them very well and they knew me. I believe in my heart they loved me, warts and all. How I combat the complexity is through the simple act of going to see them.
Some say that “Death Is Sad for Those Left Behind. As mere mortals we are extremely uncomfortable with death. The thought of our own mortality terrifies us. However, much as we try to hide from death, its presence constantly overshadows us.”
I ask, why allow it to overshadow us and why not allow it to enlighten us? If I consider the simple act of going to the cemetery and sitting along side the quiet stones of people I loved and those who loved me. If I consider that all this life we work and we build and become obsessed with complicated manifestations, all the is left in the end is love.
It is with this that I offer the simple act of realization and reframing your own life. At this moment in 2020, we are living in the most complicated time in this generations history. The stress, pain, fear, anxiety overtakes many of us. I am not suggesting any immunity to these stressors. What I am sharing with you is to find the most basic realization and recognize it. Take it and decide what you want to do with it.
Take the power and control of the lifenado (tornado of life) and work through what real loss and gain looks like. Interestingly enough, I was getting close to pushing the button on this post and a few messages came in through text of some pretty difficult situations. Many of you, probably see bad news everyday like I do. This week, I have seen close family admitted to the hospital near death, friends have lost job, close friends had parents pass away, and more. I can openly say to you that if I personally didn’t use the tools I am sharing with you myself, I would be drawn closer to a dark place.
When the body sinks into death, the essence of man is revealed. Man is a knot, a web, a mesh into which relationships are tied. Only those relationships matter . . .— Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Even prior to our end, we have an opportunity to realize "inner resilience and external support. No one makes it on their own" - Hemal Patel.
- Find your way to be “Irrationally Optimistic”
- Find Purpose
- Reframe Thinking
- Choose Happiness – Happiness is a Choice. Maybe people don’t realize they can decide and choose to be happy.
What do you think?