I’m a fairly happy, optimistic person. Unfortunately, in contemporary culture, I've only really found happy optimism in self-help gurus (who are by and large annoying) and whackadoodles (i.e. have lost touch with reality, like Peggy in Fargo). There have got to be more of us regular person optimists out there, right?
Optimism, a history
As a kid, I was a scaredy cat. Typical afraid of the dark kind of stuff, compounded by the self-preservation training I received in LA County Public Schools and from the responsible adults in my life. (Still, I always had the luxury of feeling safe in my own home, with my own family.)
So when did the optimism hit? There's not one lightning bolt moment I can point to, but I can certainly name some reasons for it.
It all began in that happy if fraught-with-peril childhood, watching a movie called Rigoletto. “Change the way you feel,” says Ribaldi to a little boy whose life circumstances are wrecking his personhood. That one stuck (because here I am, let's say a dozen+ years later, still talking about it.)
And then a few years after that, in college, there was a class with the dusty sounding name Literary Theory and Criticism, led by a Southern feminist professor who wore blazers with jeans and Birkenstocks. At that time I had the luxury of sitting in a classroom surrounded by a small group of friends, safely sharing our anger and frustration and tears as we began to see the connection between our beloved writing and political ideas and even the human body.
At the end of college, I had the great good fortune of marrying a wonderful friend; our mutual pact to grow and live and change together is freeing.
So why did those things make me happy and optimistic? Well, they taught me to stop hating myself and others for things that were either out of my control or simply part of being human. “Accept the things I cannot change and change the things I can,” and all that. I learned this in spite of organized religion, which, on the whole, teaches us all that at baseline we’re pieces of crap.
(Here comes the part where I reflect on faith. Which probably alienates fellow liberals and angers fellow Christians, because I'm a liberal and also a Christian.)
Do we make mistakes, sometimes horrible ones? Absolutely. Do we naturally tend toward selfish distraction? Yes. But those of us who claim some kind of faith should be the most magnanimous with ourselves and others: we have been told that we are worthy. Not appearing worthy, by being seen through the purifying lens of Christ. Not transfigured into someone worthy, by drinking the divine Kool-Aid. No, we are worthy, because Creator God fashioned us as worthy. To quote the great sage (Lady Gaga), “I’m beautiful in my way, ‘cause God makes no mistakes.”
Some people would call that heresy. Some would recoil in terror that I was denying the necessity of Christ. On the contrary. It’s just I think Christ’s purpose was to remind us who we are, our truest selves. To reflect back how our choices and actions matter, how a wrong orientation to the world is what messes everything up ("Forgive them. They don't know what they're doing.") The message and miracle of Christ is the reality that no force is greater than radical love.
As a Person Who Thinks, I can’t resist a good philosophical discussion or theological deep dive, but that’s all art. Those are just glorious pastimes, us using our amazing brains. Even Jesus told jokes (Can a camel fit through the eye of a needle?! Amiright?!). He enjoyed a good feast like the next guy. But he mastered the basics. The basics are love, grace and compassion. Those aren’t negative things. Those don’t require discussion or deliberation.
We are all miraculous mammals, endlessly different, endlessly fascinating, endlessly worthy of love.
So I’m optimistic. There’s good in this world. There’s no reason to get tangled in the darkness. Children of Light, I implore you: ain’t nobody got time for that.