As an optimist, I’m in constant search for that silver lining in all aspects of life. But I must admit: Mr. Brightside has had his doubts lately that such a thing exists, particularly when 20 youngsters die at the hands of violence.
Anytime I dwell on a tragedy—in this case, the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut—my mind immediately takes me to the victims’ situation; I wonder what those children were doing—learning their ABCs or completing a simple math equation, perhaps?—before hearing gunshots or seeing a strange man storm the room, killing some and robbing the innocence of others. Could the little minds of the survivors even conceive what was happening as it unfolded? I think of the parents who had just sat down at the desk in their office—their morning cup of coffee in hand and photograph of their kid smiling back at them—before hearing from coworkers or local news outlets of a shooting at their child’s school. What indescribable terror they must have felt in that moment.
On my way home from work the day of the tragedy, I stopped by a children’s clothing store. During the holiday season, the company I work for collects donations for underprivileged children, and I typically give a little something. While I was waiting in line and grasping tiny gloves and a hat—something I rarely do since I have no kids of my own—I thought about all of the hidden presents bought by those Newtown parents that their departed children will never receive. I thought about how the joy of Christmases past will be replaced by memories that nobody should ever possess. I left the store in a flurry of emotions—saddened by humanity’s dark side and guilty of the many holidays I’ve gotten to share with my family.
As my brain was trying to make sense of the senseless, the silver lining appeared in an unlikely place. Later that night, I met my friend, Dan, for drinks. To know Dan is to love him—he has a good heart yet says things that make him seem curmodgeon-esque. For instance, I witnessed him argue with a Burger King employee about how the fries he received didn’t look as appetizing as how they appeared on the menu. And I’ll never forget one of my favorite Danisms: “Life is a runaway train toward death.” He says he isn’t as gloom-and-doom as I make him out to be, a point he exemplified as he gave his opinion on the Newtown tragedy. The event, he says, will be the tipping point for better gun control policies. “I’m optimistic it’s going to happen,” he told me sincerely.
To say I was floored by his response is an understatement. Though I didn’t tell Dan at the moment he uttered it, that one statement gave me hope that Earth isn’t transitioning into a sorrow-filled wasteland plagued by one violent act after the other. Dan reminded me that many of us—even pseudo-curmudgeons—dream of better days, no matter how bad things might seem in the present.
I want to believe that Dan is right. I need to believe it. As an optimist, the alternative is too upsetting to even contemplate.
THE ETERNAL OPTIMIST