Recently, I heard the phrase, extraordinary optimism, and it struck me as a phrase that I should tuck away and pull out to think about later. So, I am going to think about extraordinary optimism in this post. What could it mean in my life?
The memory that this phrase elicited for me was of a visit to an East Indian Doctor in St. Paul, Minnesota with our youngest daughter (pictured here at eleven years old). We had adopted our tiny, severely undernourished daughter, Malika, when she was two. She had spent the first part of her life in an orphanage and developmentally, we knew that she was behind American norms on many things but the thing that worried us most at the beginning was her weight. She doubled in weight within months after she was on a good diet but she was below the 1st percentile on the growth charts. At four years old, I took her to an East Indian doctor who practiced medicine for half a year in the United States so that he could afford to provide medical care to people in rural India the other half. I thought maybe he could tell me if Malika was below the 1st percentile in weight in India or only in comparison to American children. The Doctor met Malika in a very warm and loving way and asked me lots of questions while gently listening to her heart beat and breathing and so on. Before he could answer my questions, however, we were interrupted by his nurse who handed him a note. He went to another room to return a call and he listened for a while with reassuring noises now and then that I could hear. He then said Get a pen and paper and I will prescribe for a you a prayer. And he did. Very slowly, so that his listener could write it down, he recited a lovely little prayer and then told the patient to recite this morning and night and at any time that he or she felt afraid. It was then that I understood I was not with a doctor like any one that I had ever met.
The doctor came back and holding Malika in his lap like an uncle, he listened to my concerns about her weight. He explained that even in India, my precious one would be tiny for her age. This is the result of malnutrition, he said. But you must understand, he went on, that many miracles have happened already for this little one. It is a miracle that she is here right now with us. There is every reason for you to expect that her life will continue to be blessed with miracles. You must not let yourself dwell on the negative, rather be happy for her that she has so much opportunity.
Over and over through the years, as we struggled with health and developmental challenges both minor and nearly overwhelming, I remembered the words of the Indian doctor. He did not prescribe for me a prayer but he might just as well have as I told myself so many times to let go of my fears for Malika and instead, to be happy for her that she has so much opportunity.
I believe that this doctor exemplified and inspired Extraordinary Optimism in his unconventional practice. He was truthful as ethically all professionals are expected to be, but not narrow in the truth that he told. I know that Malika was more able to find joy in her life because I was able to see her life as joyful and that meant accepting but not dwelling on the negative results of a difficult early beginning. There are many traditions that have evolved in the practice of parenting, medicine and education that do not serve the Extraordinary Optimism needed for this kind of work. Malika continues to be blessed with miracles, as you can see in her face looking up at the young man she has come to love. I am blessed to be able to participate in both the struggle and the joy of her life.
In my life and in my work, I treasure the people who inspire Extraordinary Optimism in me and I hope I can inspire this perspective in others. I believe that Extraordinary Optimism is just seeing the reality of so much opportunity in every circumstance and in every life.