There is a group whose influence reverberates just outside the bounds of societal awareness. They may be doctors or janitors — physicists or high school dropouts. They are often the driving force of social progress, a group we are indebted to — yet we’re often unaware of their efforts — overlooked when using social metrics of success and failure.
I’m speaking of those who see the world, not as it is, but as it could be — and this vision, though as buffeted by disappointment and heartbreak as anyone’s, provides something equally compelling. It provides belief in the potential of those lives that intersect with theirs. This vision isn’t starry eyed delusion, but the capacity to look through hopeful eyes — then the willingness to patiently wait and trust and offer a sense of unflappable certainty that we’ll see it too. Then act.
For much of my life, I was unaware of them, ignorant of their impetus while attached to sterile definitions of optimism and pessimism — success and failure.
Then I met my wife, Sarah. For almost eleven years of marriage I’ve felt the empowering embrace of a visionary — of someone who loved me through complacency — whose ability to see beyond my framework of self-doubt altered my life in innumerable ways. While we all have a responsibility to act on our potential, it can be invaluable when someone sees through our protective walls and is a patient, supportive ally — and when necessary, provides a loving nudge.
I now understand the difference between optimism as a temporal emotion and optimism as an unbending belief.
Perhaps this isn’t what is typically written for a Valentine’s tribute. It’s short on flowers. And hearts. And red lettered calligraphy. My heart rate still accelerates when Sarah walks into the room. I envision romantic, moonlit nights in London and hiking with her through the Scottish highlands — those times are in front of us. Maybe it’s watching my children grow so quickly or my own rapid march toward forty, but I’ve been contemplating what love in action looks like — and the way Sarah’s life will echo through the generations that follow.
When Sarah’s biography is written, it will undoubtedly detail the ways her ineffable spirit touched the world but it will likely miss something profound — the way her tireless focus on serving the invisible and neglected was intertwined with the infectious confidence that helped others see their arc of possibility. We’ve become a nation marked by complacent acceptance — and a feeble discomfort with the status quo that can be mollified with The Next Big Thing. It desperately needs people to draw a line in the sand and vocalize their unwillingness to accept lukewarm mediocrity. On this Valentine’s Day, I celebrate one of those voices.