The Optimist’s Daughter
I can’t remember how old I was when I first realized that my dad was an optimist. I knew that he was generous—“Sure, bring your friends on the vacation!”—and that he was kind—“Dear, that boy you like doesn’t know what he’s missing!” But, optimistic? I guess it was just such a part of him that I couldn’t distinguish the trait from the man. Once I realized that he possessed such a valuable characteristic, I set about figuring out how I, too, could embrace the positive.
The first step was unearthing the history behind my dad’s optimism. My dad’s parents were born in Lithuania, my grandpa in 1911 and my grandma in 1920. As newlyweds, they were enjoying a comfortable life before the Nazi invasion of the Baltics in 1941. Through accidents of time and place, my grandparents escaped on a train bound for the east; their families, waiting for the next train, were not so fortunate. Grandma and Grandpa fled into Russia, and by luck or by providence, not only survived the war, but had two healthy sons before the war’s end. The family came to America in 1951, where my grandparents worked hard, sent their boys to medical school, and earned the respect and love of their children and grandchildren.
Through so much change and loss, my grandparents remained optimistic, my grandpa in particular. He is always quick to laugh, to make jokes, to acknowledge the negative and then put it aside for the positive. My dad, more than anyone in the family, fully absorbed this philosophy. “This, too, shall pass,” he is fond of saying. My dad has known major tragedy (the loss of his family) and more modest disappointments (having his kids pursue careers in the less-than-lucrative nonprofit sector rather than in the traditional parental-pride powerhouses of medicine and law). No matter the circumstance, he always adapts with a smile.
Though not a natural optimist like my grandfather and father, I have learned from them to seek out the positive, even in the everyday disappointments that accompany the life of the fortunate American thirty-something. I believe that I can mourn without becoming mournful, that I can change my expectations without changing my convictions, and that I can, by force of will, be grateful to have even the smallest bright or happy moments. In that, I am not just the optimist’s daughter, or even the optimist’s granddaughter, but the optimist herself.
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