Optimism is Hard

The relentless question, even after the arguing and debating and philosophizing is all played out, lingers: Would you rather live your life willfully and happily discounting the anvils constantly dropping from the sky, or spend your days nervously looking for cover in the hopes of sidestepping a few of them as they inevitably fall?

I mean, my god, we all know that in every life some anvils must fall. And the truth is — often for some, less so for the lucky — we all get bonked at some point.

But do you walk through life always with an eye out for the worst, bracing for impact, hoping to avoid some pain? Or do you screw that, skip merrily along, and deal with life’s anvils as they come? Because, again, they’re coming no matter what you do.

January was supposed to be a good month. The start of a new year. Getting rid of the old one. We had a lot to look forward to. The boy was home for a few weeks. We were going to inaugurate a new president who, at the absolute minimum, wouldn’t drama-tweet himself into the headlines every moment, pushing us to take sides on everything. Less tweeting? That’s good.

A vaccine is being rolled out now, too, and with it the promise of putting this razzlefrazzle pandemic behind us at some point in 2021. The in-laws should both have their second shot in a couple weeks.

I had a birthday in January. (Yeah, whatever. But we had cake.)

Despite all that hopefulness, though, despite that dogged and seemingly misplaced optimism, these last four weeks have been an absolute nightmare. Anvils falling left and right. Serious, deadly, out-of-nowhere anvils. It’s been brutal. Not so brutal that we’re longing for 2020. But, damn, 2021 so far has not been that break in the clouds we all need.

It was only a month ago, at the start of January — seems like a long, dark year ago already — that a bunch of idiots overran the Capitol in Washington D.C. By a bunch, I mean thousands and thousands. And by idiots, I mean they tried to take over the Capitol, by force, and stop the business of democracy. In America, you just don’t see that every day.

The concept of an armed insurrection in America was impossible to grasp before it actually, you know, happened, and seems super-ludicrous now spelling it out: American citizens stormed the Capitol because they were unhappy with the results of the last presidential election and figured they could change things by pressuring lawmakers into halting the counting of the Electoral College vote.

Many in Congress were hip to the plan, officially objecting to the vote even before the hordes reached the Capitol steps. The loser of the election, the 45th president, egged everybody on, and had for months. All these elected officials, with absolutely no proof of any wrongdoing, prodded a mob into extreme violence against the government in the hopes of keeping their man in the Oval Office.

(In true politico scumbagginess, the Congressional mob claimed that they were just giving voice to doubts raised about the election … doubts that they, these slimy elected officials, raised in the first place by pushing the lie, conjured by the president himself from his own damaged, psychotic ego, that the election was fraudulent. That it was, in their words, stolen.)

(The scumbags knew the election wasn’t stolen. All of them, from the president on down, knew it. But the truth doesn’t matter to a psychopath trying to hold onto power, or his treasonous minions.)

People died in the riot. A woman from Kennesaw, Georgia, was trampled to death in the surge into the Capitol. A policeman was killed when someone threw a fire extinguisher at his head. A woman, trying to break through barricaded doors, was shot by a cop protecting the same politicians that incited the riot. She died, too.

This was in the middle of Washington DC, in a building that millions of schoolkids solemnly walk through, where the laws of the land are made, where statesmen and orators have praised the beauty of American democracy for more than two centuries.

That was January 6. The month was just getting started.

Two weeks later, the inaugural for president Joe Biden was held on the steps of that building, behind barricades, with a limited audience because of the duel threats of violence and the still-raging pandemic.

There, though, for a brief, ethereal moment, the anvils stopped falling and the sun shone as a young woman gave voice to all we aspire to be.

For there is always light,
If only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

The next day, on January 21, I celebrated my birthday which, as I said, is not normally a cause for balloons and cheer. But the day also marked the fifth anniversary of a particularly sadistic chest-cracking incident, and that seems to have turned out well. So I ate my cake — well, what was left of it; we started it a few days earlier when the boy still was in town — and drew up some misguided hope that things, maybe, were getting better.

I learned later that day that a friend and co-worker had been hospitalized with Covid.

Being optimistic is not easy.

On the next day, January 22, Hank Aaron, the most important figure in Atlanta sports history, died two weeks short of his 87th birthday. In 1974 Hammerin’ Hank broke Babe Ruth’s home run record with dignity and class as racists dogged his every swing. In 2007 he watched with unshakeable grace and otherworldly dignity as a brutish, chemically enhanced miserable human being broke that cherished record (though as most anyone who knows anything about baseball will tell you, Barry Bonds is not in the same league as Hank Aaron.)

Just a few days later, that friend and former colleague, someone I worked closely with for nearly six years, succumbed to the virus that has killed more than 420,000 Americans. He was 48. He had a wife and three kids. One of his sons was Luke’s age.

We used to talk, Sekou and I, about the trickiness of raising teenage boys, about getting them through high school, about helping them find their way into and through college, about pushing them into the real world and, as we joked, off of the parental payroll. Nobody who knew Sekou didn’t like Sekou. He’d talk to anyone. He’d laugh with everyone.

The sadness of his passing, the pain that his family and multitude of friends are shouldering, the anger over the unfairness of it all, is absolute.

On January 30, the last Saturday of a stinging, stinking month, a well-known national baseball writer from DC died of Covid. I hadn’t seen Mel in more than a decade, but for the 10+ years I was covering baseball on a national level, he was always ready with a joking welcome, a spot at a pressbox dinner, and some good inside baseball talk. He was 64.

In the last year or so, the promised bright side has been almost impossible to find, much as I keep trying. It’s dark out there. In January, it was cold and cruel, too. Relentless.

But spring is just around the corner, right? The vaccine is here. In a few months, we may be able to go out in public without masks. Maybe even sit down in a restaurant with friends. See family. Hug them.

I know, I know. It seems impossible to think that way. Optimism is hard. In my lifetime, and I suspect in many others, it’s never been more difficult.

But with all we’ve been through, after this year, after that month, how else can we be but optimistic?

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