Hope Without Optimism


Dear Will:

One of my many (and most glaring) character flaws is that I care way too much whether or not my team wins. That hyper-competitiveness has served me well only to the degree that it has driven me to strive for excellence in most of my endeavors (home repair being a conspicuous contrapositive). And while I have been somewhat successful over the years at suppressing those emotional urges, they still manifest themselves from time to time in awkward circumstances: during the scramble for the final wedge in Trivial Pursuit, for example, or in a three-legged race at the company picnic. It’s embarrassing.

Where that desire to win manifests itself most darkly is in the world of competitive team sports. If my Bruins lose a close one, it can send me into a funk that lasts for days, especially (as it so often seems) when they should have won. If I had the misfortune of being from, say, Cleveland, this competitive spirit might not have such a firm hold on me. But I grew up cheering for the Dodgers and Lakers and UCLA, teams with enough history of success that victory and even championships are often a distinct possibility, resulting in expectations in profound disproportion to objective reality.

So you can imagine, without any creative effort, how I was feeling last night when my Dodgers, who haven’t won a championship since before my children were born, blew multiple leads and lost 13-12 to the Astros in Game 5 of the World Series. Now, if you are a well-adjusted human, you might reasonably think: I didn’t even realize the Dodgers were in the World Series; or, What’s the World Series? But if you’re me, and the Dodgers end up losing the Series, you can expect to relive the agony of last night’s debacle for years to come. I still get aggravated by how the USA got swindled out of an Olympic gold medal in basketball by the USSR. In 1972. When I was 12.

Unlike the stock market, which provides a buyer for every seller, the sports world is completely imbalanced, with devastated losers far outnumbering euphoric winners in any given season. In a playoff, in fact, every team but one ends its year with a disappointing loss. And if we shrink that world down to mine (the only one that TRULY matters in this context) the moments of euphoria are infrequent and precious. For even though my teams have a history of occasional excellence, history fades even as the possibility of a letdown casts a heavy, constant shadow over whatever is happening right now.

As a remedy to all of this, years ago I committed myself to the following rooting philosophy: Hope without optimism. I believe in it so firmly that I have taught it like a catechism to my children. For I believe that that philosophy carries with it both the fervent possibility of victory and the realistic expectation that we’ll miss the winning field goal in the final seconds. It’s my attempt to maximize the prospective euphoria while mitigating the nearly-inevitable devastation. It’s not a perfect remedy, but it helps.

All of this runs counter to what Jesus taught, of course. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” He said, “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Other scripture encourages us to have “a perfect brightness of hope,” knowing that, if we endure well the trials that may lie ahead, in the end we shall have eternal life (see 2 Nephi 31:20). That is the promise of Christ’s resurrection and Atonement: the promise of victory for everyone, a championship even for the most beleaguered among us. His message was all about both hope AND optimism.

Which is a very good thing—especially if the Dodgers blow this Series, which they should have won. Because if that happens, I could just die.


Humor Minus Time

Dear Will:

I’ve heard that Mark Twain once said: “Humor is tragedy plus time.” So it’s probably too soon for me to be sharing with you my most recent misadventures under the kitchen sink. For the rest of you, just watching it live from a few feet away would create sufficient time to transform the unfolding tragedy into double-you-over, spasmodic-giggle-inducing humor, but for the incompetent handyman who lived through the ordeal, it’s still a little hard to crack a smile.

I cracked just about every other part of my body, however. Any time you have to stick a bald head in a tight space you are pretty much inviting unsightly gashes. Meanwhile, my arms look as if I came out on the losing end of Fruit Ninja Live. The loss of blood isn’t that big of a deal—the stuff regenerates, right?—but the lost dignity may never be recovered.

First of all—just so that we’re all clear on this subject—we’re talking about plumbing here, and plumbing is evil. I’m pretty sure they’ve done studies to show that no plumbing project, no matter how innocuous or straightforward, has ever taken less than the entire day on which it was begun. And they have also shown that if there is an imminent event of some import—dinner guests, say, or perhaps the UCLA vs. USC football game, or maybe a looming Thanksgiving Day feast—or, God forbid, ALL THREE—the chances of everything going smoothly are less than zero. I don’t know how that math works out exactly, but it’s science, so it must be true.

So imagine my unbridled euphoria when we discovered a small, almost imperceptible drip under the sink last week. My expert diagnosis determined that the hose on the faucet was at fault. Well that seems simple enough, I thought. Just unscrew the old one and put in a new one. Even I can do that. [INSERT SPONTANEOUS, OFF-CAMERA LAUGHTER HERE.]

I will spare you the details—not that you wouldn’t enjoy them—but I just can’t bear to relive the whole thing. So I’ll give you my Saturday in a series of 140-characters-or-less tweets instead:

  • [1:34 pm] That Price Pfister hose costs 70 bucks. Smarter to just replace the whole faucet. Heading to Costco. #priceypfister
  • [3:49 pm] How do you loosen a corroded flange you can’t even reach? AND HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO PLUMBING WITHOUT SWEAR WORDS? #muffledgrunts
  • [5:04 pm] Game’s starting and I don’t even have the old fixtures out yet. Bringing in Manuel for reinforcements. #nothappy #mannyfromheaven
  • [6:29 pm] Home Depot. #lovemyDVR
  • [7:08 pm] One last trip to Home Depot. #almostfinished #gobruins
  • [7:29 pm] Back at Home Depot. #notamused #watchthegamewithoutme
  • [8:02 pm] Home #$*&@% Depot.
  • [8:43 pm] Fifth trip to Home Depot. Bruins win. Or so I’ve heard. #worstSaturdayever

And in all of this I’m leaving out the part about finishing at 10:30 pm, about smelling smoke when we turned on the dishwasher, about the visit from the electrician and the malfunctioning reverse osmosis system that we discovered after he left. But all of that is in the past. Today is Thanksgiving, and we have a brand new kitchen faucet, and were it not for the fact that last night we discovered something dripping under the kitchen sink, those pangs in my gut might be signs of hunger.

May your days be filled joy—rather than, say, humor—throughout this holiday season.


This I Believe

Dear Will:

Do you ever listen to NPR? Over the last several months they have been running this series of commentaries from both the famous and the not-so-famous entitled “This I Believe.” It is a brief opportunity for someone to get a little personal about whatever. I figured that since NPR is unlikely to want to put me on the air, I would foist myself on you instead. You know, just like I do every month.

Here’s what I believe:

  • I believe in that magical feeling you get around a newborn baby.
  • I believe in blue jeans any time you can get away with them.
  • I believe in warm cinnamon rolls and really, really cold milk.
  • I believe the USA basketball team was robbed in the finals of the ’72 Olympics.
  • I believe in the sound of the ocean as the sun is going down.
  • I believe in lots and lots of laughter.
  • I believe in the UCLA Bruins. (Not really. I just desperately want to believe.)
  • I believe in decorating your office with your children’s artwork.
  • I believe in the sight of a mom, snuggled up with a child, reading a book out loud.
  • I believe in quiet Sundays at home.
  • I believe in occasionally having breakfast for dinner.
  • I believe in the power of really good writing.
  • I believe in occasionally letting the kids stay up late—and more than occasionally getting them to bed early.
  • I believe in the awe-inspiring National Parks.
  • I believe in laptop computers.
  • I believe in the smell of fresh cut grass.
  • I believe in peaceful music.
  • I believe in regularly setting aside your own needs to take care of somebody else’s.
  • I believe that I have no idea how the world and all its wonders were created but that for sure it didn’t happen by chance.
  • I believe that everyone should try really hard to be nice.
  • I believe in the power of prayer.
  • I believe that God knows me personally and will help my in life when I ask . . . and when I’m ready.
  • I believe in prophets and scripture and promptings of the Holy Spirit.
  • I believe in Jesus Christ.

I also believe that I have spent enough time telling you what I believe. Now it’s your turn. What do you believe?