The urgency of optimism

These are nerve-racking times that can rattle the soul of even the most equanimous American.

Relations between the U.S. and Iran are on a roller coaster. After initially threatening to bomb Iran, President Trump reconsidered, one of those rare occasions when his volatility has worked to the advantage of the country. Iran then responded by calling the Americans “idiots” and “mentally retarded”, a relatively restrained response coming from the usually choleric ayatollahs. And unless  someone can keep John “Bomb Everybody” Bolton locked up in his office until Trump fires him, the U.S. could end up in yet another armed conflict in the Middle East.

Stay tuned and pray.

And for sheer horror, what could top the photo that appeared this morning of the dead bodies of a Salvadoran father, his two-year-old daughter clinging to his neck, floating face-down on the Rio Grande after they drowned trying to make it across to the American side? What could be more horrible than that?
And yet precisely amid this depressing maelstrom of bad news it becomes imperative for us to remain optimistic. What’s the alternative? Accept a daily dose of the terrible as the “new normal”?

Symptomatic relief could come through a weekly news moratorium, a Sabbath for Sanity, in your own home. Go off for a bike ride, read some good fiction, or cook a meal for your family and friends, and talk about what’s going on in your lives. It seems a timid gesture but it’s a place to start, to refuse the bad news to crush your spirit and beat you into helplessness.

Often, despair and fear appear to have taken over the public arena, where presumably rational people would air the differences, compromise, reach for the commonweal. But more common today is for everyone, alt-right or alt-left, to crouch behind their own bunkers and shout rather than listen. We read the Huffington Post or Breitbart News, and proclaim either to be the truth, and the other “fake news.”

A bit of good news just two days ago: 
The rainy season is here!

In a commentary in Time magazine, Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Shape of Water”) argues that now, when the view out the window may be particularly bleak, is when optimism is more urgent than ever:

Optimism is radical. It is the hard choice, the brave choice. And it is, it seems to me, most needed now, in the face of despair—just as a car is most useful when you have a distance to close. Otherwise it is a large, unmovable object parked in the garage. […]

History and fable have both proven that nothing is ever entirely lost. David can take Goliath. A beach in Normandy can turn the tide of war. Bravery can topple the powerful. These facts are often seen as exceptional, but they are not. Every day, we all become the balance of our choices—choices between love and fear, belief or despair. No hope is ever too small.

One blog that I enjoy is written by my friend Barbara. I enjoy the uncomplicated cheerfulness of most of her posts, in which she celebrates a good meal, a discovered hummingbird nest in her yard, or the arrival of the rainy season. The posts often end with “Viva Mexico!” Barbara’s optimism is particularly admirable because she has gone through more than her share of troubles in her life. 

Rain was still pelting our terrace yesterday morning. 

Del Toro concludes his essay in Time by invoking the much-quoted American science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, who observed, not too cheerfully, that “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” 

But, he adds, that means that still, “Ten percent of everything is worth the damn effort.” We’ve got to look for that ten percent. And so it goes time after time, he says, choice after choice, when we decide to leave behind a biography or an epitaph. Look around you now and decide, he exhorts us. 

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