Radical optimism. I don’t know what this term means to anyone else – I have refrained from Googling it in an effort to carve out my own definition, to taste it, roll it around on my tongue, try it on, see where it pinches and where it pulls. I don’t want someone else’s radical optimism to get in the sunlight of my own. I may have something different to say when this little seed of mine has grown into a sapling or a full grown tree, but as a of now it looks something like this.
I want to live my days feeling full of joy and optimism. That is not to be confused with ignoring pain – my own or the world’s. It’s an idea, a state for which to strive that takes a good look around, sees the ugliness, the grime, the windows full of cobwebs and old ideas, the gutters full of broken dreams, cigarettes and the ghosts of those who didn’t survive cancer. It’s a state that sees all that, and then still sees wonder, magic, softness. It’s a state that has room to hold both immense sorrow and bright joy all at the same time. It’s an idea that says: To be radically optimistic, I don’t strive to be blind to Darkness, I strive to open myself up to her, to let her walk into my house, try on my slippers, maybe sit on my couch for a while and sip some chamomile tea. To be radically optimistic, I choose, while Darkness rests comfortably in my life, to still see the possibilities. To still see Joy and Love sitting right there beside her enjoying their own tea, in cups with gold leaf, while wearing sparkles and frilly organza.
My idea of radical optimism is to be radical about being optimistic. To decide day in and day out, to see the good, to see the joy, to know the sun is out, she’s just behind the clouds. It is also to decide to be deeply sad about dying and injustice and cruelty. And, perhaps, more important than anything else, it is to act on both of those things. To speak the things that need to be spoken into our world. To speak out against injustice, inequality, abuse, tyranny, hate; and just as loudly, speak out for beauty and love and grace and mercy and kindness.
To be radically optimistic is to believe that no matter the darkness, there is always light and we deserve to bask in its glow, even as we feel like we are drowning. Yesterday, my mother told me something her mother once told her: “When you are overwhelmed, float. It will be impossible to drown.” This, in my grandmother’s words of wisdom, is radical optimism. Perhaps I needed to hear her words in order to write my own.