Holding the light and the dark

Josh Radnor, perhaps best known in the States for How I Met Your Mother (the TV show), has a periodic newsletter he sends out. Today’s resonated with me, especially this passage:

There’s no feeling I wish to close myself off to. I’m okay with despair and discontent s long as they’re only part of the story. I’ve no interest in blind optimism wherein I close my eyes and heart to the true suffering in the world. Nor am I interested in lazy, cheap cynicism where I feel the fix is in and change is impossible. I can hold both dark and light, while knowing that the light is going to need a bit more attention, care, and time.

Counteracting that self-critical voice requires daily vigilance. Despair and cynicism are always extending a tempting invitation. But I’ve found the rewards of working those other muscles, of telling myself another story, are immense. It serves as a shield against both individual and collective hopelessness. With hope comes faith and aliveness. And with faith and aliveness comes determination and right thinking. I intuitively know what’s being asked next of me. And there’s an effortlessness in the doing whose byproduct is a new kind of joy, that of being used for a purpose greater than myself.

That phrase… “I can hold both dark and light….” really spoke to me. I get in the doldrums – the pits of despair, in some ways, like the ones in The Princess Bride. Especially when I feel like a failure at work. Which seems to happen with somewhat alarming regularity. 
I think part of it is, obviously, the work that I have chosen to do. Academia is inherently competitive and can be very, very disheartening if you let it. When you’re doing research and sending your ideas and thoughts out into the world – in the hopes that someone might give you money to pursue your ideas – and those ideas and thoughts are constantly rejected as “not enough”? That gets hard. 
And yet we still do it. We do it over and over again. We continue to strive – to reach – to try. 
I do think it’s part of the human condition. We want to improve, to do better, to be better. But there is also something to be said for knowing you are enough, right now. 
Josh Radnor goes on to address this in the end of his Museletter, as he calls it…

Patience and humility are two other muscles that could use a bit more attention. And there’s some real relief on the other side of that. For today I don’t have to save the world. Today I don’t have to have all the answers. Today I don’t have to heal all my wounds.

I don’t have to be everything today.  But I can keep trying, today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next… 

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