I believe in optimism, as foolish, defiant, and outrageous as it comes. It is a gift from my dream-damaged grandfather, who left Naples in 1905 when he was 17, arriving in New York’s harbor on a muggy summer day with $6 in his pocket and not a word of English, one of hordes that would be disembarking onto the already crowded shore. He walked into the raucous future and a thousand dead-end streets, never thinking of himself as anything less than an entrepreneur. He was forever to dwell at the skirts of fortune, near enough to feel her breath, never her kiss, but again and again shoved forward by his irrational heart and a stubborn ability to believe things would get better.
I was lured to California by dreams like his. I quit my job and left New York alone in the bleakest part of January, despite the well-meaning chorus of caution and disapproval that I realize in retrospect has preceded everything big I have ever done. Stuffing my paltry possessions into Hefty trash bags — my matched luggage — I headed south and west in an avocado green Buick with a vinyl roof whose tattered strips blew like sails in the wind.
I was old enough to know better, but I saw myself as a pioneer and I sensed that this was my great migration, one of my life’s defining moments. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t scared or that everything was easy. But in the midst of winter, I found trees heavy with oranges, and this alone is consolation for any number of losses.
Despair is too easy and it perpetrates itself. Call me Pollyanna, but I’ll whistle in the dark if I have to, going through the motions until the real thing kicks in. I choose to write a story on this day’s blank slate that envelops possibility, perceives grace, and speaks its thanks through deed. I am a teacher, an idealist, and probably a fool, but I know that I am braver and more constructive because I view the world through an optimistic lens. Even in the wake of larger news, that daily barrage of terrible truths and righteous lies, I refuse to give more weight to the horrors than the miracles. We are hardwired for hope, hope that is born and reborn in a thousand incarnations, and I embrace it.
Once, I opened my eyes in the middle the night just in time to glimpse a shooting star, evidence both real and symbolic that wonders are occurring every second, even if unbeknownst to us. And last summer I returned to my grandfather’s village, a century after he left it, and sent email into cyberspace while the moon rose over Mt. Vesuvius, and in that moment so completely unimaginable to his 19th century mind, I saw another hopeful certainty: Things are yet to happen that are far beyond our ability to imagine — and some of them will be good.
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