Friday, December 05, 2008

Optimism: I haz it

In the last year I learned something very valuable about myself. I have the optimism gene. Now before you start shaking your vitual heads, hear me out first. I may be odd, more than a little bit crazy, idealistic as all hell, and one of those incurable romantics who believes love really can heal the world, but I do know something about real world survival.

I've written about my background before and in so many ways it is not any different than anyone else who came from a place where wars were so much part of their history that you couldn't dig a garden without striking the remains of foolish pissing contests going back centuries.

I'm talking about the people who were stuck in the middle of those contests, my ancestors, my grandparents, my parents, my entire family in one way or another. We can talk about the legacy of war, the lessons of hate that turn future generations into die-hard pacifists, the scars that take generations to heal. Those are all valid and all part of my psyche.

But I'm talking survival here. I'm talking about people who should have died but managed to stay alive. My family history is filled with escapes from death that ranged from actually physically climbing out of a death camp to stories of hiding in basements, back rooms, abandoned buildings, ruins and every imaginable object that could be used to shield oneself from bombs, bricks, rocks and bullets.

It is also equally filled with stories of those who didn't manage to survive, who suffered horribly and never healed from the horrors, who left their humanity somewhere between the world wars and waking up with the wrong name and/or ethnic identity time and time again.

Those are the genes of despair in me, the little voice that whispers I am not strong enough, I am not talented enough, I am not loved enough, I am not liked enough, I am not enough of a whole long list of things I can recite like a liturgy at will--usually on a December night in the Pacific Northwest where conversations take place around the foolishness of calling the dim, gray, diffused rainy mist, daylight, when tabulating how many hours of light managed to break through the day.

But those voices are often quickly drowned out by that optimism gene, that same one that kept my family alive through generations when they should have died. I'm convinced now that I've had enough time to measure my own path through life, that they survived because they never let themselves believe they would not. This didn't work all the time. My history is also filled with stories of blissful, grinning optimists going to their death believing a last minute reprieve was on the horizon.

But enough of them survived to pass on to me the belief that as  bad as things get sometimes, they will always get better. It kept them alive and it keeps me alive. Even in December.

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