For the crusty and those who wish they were

Curmudgeons have always had a special place in my heart. Those characters who tell it like it is, don’t care what anyone thinks, make wry commentary on the world around them, refuse the status quo, and usually have a soft spot for furry creatures or babies. I look at them and think, ah, to be so crusty and independentwhat a way to live.

Take Batman, for instance: thinks happiness in love is impossible, holds no daydreams about Gotham getting its streets swept clean and staying that way, gets trained in a really dark place (like, literally dark… does anyone know where that was?), talks like he’s got a major larynx problem, and knows that what he needs to be is not a hero in white shining armor but to take the fall for someone else so that people have hope.

Or picture your favorite gruff old man who does not fight bad guys. Maybe he’s rough around the edges, but he’s probably got great stories and doesn’t delude himself. It’s like the guy from Up. Square-jawed, solitary, not interested in fancies, disappointed.

Oh, to be a curmudgeon. To not give a rip what anyone thinks. To see things the way they are.

Of course, it’s not as cut and dry as all that. There’s a place in-between those who expect sunshine and rainbows and those who are certain a hurricane is imminent. And that’s probably where most of us fall, caught between hope and fear of disappointment.

Isn’t that what being crusty is all about? Not hoping so you’re not disappointed? Not caring so you don’t get hurt? If you’ve read any C.S. Lewis, you’re thinking of the line from The Four Loves where he says that love is essentially being vulnerable.

“Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.”

At my stage of life, curmudgeonness (sooooo not a word) seems equal with maturity. At least, that’s the picture I get when I tell people my aspirations and they respond with something like this:

“Awww, that’s so great. I remember when I had just graduated college and was starting to plan out my life.”

Then a hint of fortune-telling follows: Oh, I see it now. You’re going to pursue this for a while and try to make it work. You’ll get as far as hope can take you and will eventually settle for the existence everyone else has or something equally stable. Like the future is calling and saying that everyone has to deal with disappointment and move on from what they want to do to what they have to do.

Part of that is true. Everyone does have to deal with disappointment. And failure. And that’s when it’d be nice to be a crusty, hardened veteran of the world. And those experiences are what give tougher skin.

But maybe we need to be careful to not get too tough. I so want to be. I want to be tough and able to handle anything and never get my hopes up without cause, because strength is so admirable and I hate crying – especially when there’s a good reason. And being doe-eyed and ignorant of the world and dreamy about what could be is not a trait that leads to survival and thriving (at least not in the wild…).

As much as I’d love to abandon the look of inexperience and naïveté, naive people have done amazing things. Tough people have, too. The thing they both have in common is that they keep going no matter what stands in their way. For one, it is the failure and the roadblocks that could stop them and the vision of what could be that drives them. For the other, it’s the inability to hope for what isn’t seemingly possible that could keep them from progressing and their belief in soldiering on that keeps them going.

As always, I come to a place where I realize that being balanced is probably the best thing. Toughness and hopefulness combined can achieve things that either on their own or paired with something less antithetical would not.

I can’t be Batman (for a lot of reasons). I also can’t be Bambi. Now, to figure out what lies between.

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