All these squalls to which we have been subjected are signs that the weather will soon improve and things will go well for us, because it is not possible for the bad or the good to endure forever, and from this it follows that since the bad has lasted so long, the good is close at hand.Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
The weather has indeed improved in the past 10 days. The snow is slowly, steadily melting. It has been luxurious to watch the thick blanket of February dwindle to a patchwork of abstract expressionist art on the canvases of front lawns, some resembling 3D topographical maps of the Rocky Mountains. Snowmelt has bathed the buried bulbs. Having received their marching orders from above, they push irrepressible shoots, piercing the softening soil and reaching for sunlight.
The Earth is waking up. Daylight lengthens and is about to receive a booster shot when the clocks spring forward this Saturday. An hour less sleep but an hour of extra sunlight on the far side of day. A fair trade after the difficult winter we only recently outlasted, having received our marching orders from above. The sandhill cranes were spotted overhead on Monday, returning from their winter refuge.
Like tulips and daffodils, the human spirit is irrepressible, the life force poised and ready, which is reason enough for optimism. We awoke from our four-year anti-democracy nightmare and we’re emerging from a difficult pandemic. Outdoor dining is setting its tables. Whitman’s pent-up aching rivers are ready to be unleashed.
The pandemic wasn’t all bad. We miss each other. We’re reaching out, hungry for connection. But we discovered that virtual could be real and remote could be meaningful too. We had COVID but virtually no colds or flu. We learned lessons for the next virus. We learned to value what we too long took for granted. We know what we can survive. We know what we don’t want to return to. We know there is a better life to lead.
Getting vaccinated makes me feel more optimistic. I did a deep spring cleaning after my second shot.
Politically, we have a sane president. We outvoted the duped and deluded, setting records. We prevented the election from being overturned. The big lies and liars continue to implode. The COVID relief bill will help millions. We are choosing lives of possibility and opportunity over death by despair. We learned that hope is stronger than hopelessness.
And that it’s never over till it’s over.
Just as pessimism doesn’t protect us from bad things, optimism doesn’t guarantee good things. But there are reasons for optimism nonetheless. A reckoning with race is just beginning, a rendezvous with reality. The anti-democratic stranglehold is losing its grip.
Locally, I’m optimistic about the Oak Park village board race. The good news is that people of color are stepping forward to run for local office. The next generation is getting involved. I wouldn’t be upset if any three of the six trustee candidates are chosen and either candidate for village president. Some are more familiar with the way village government works, but experience is just one qualification and not always the best. A new generation brings new energy. I trust they know what they’re getting into.
The new board will feature four new members and likely be more “progressive” than the past two boards, which tilted heavily toward economic development, business interests holding sway and getting its way. Before that, the pendulum swung toward sustainability and preservation. Will it simply swing back again or have we learned enough to incorporate the best of both worlds? We’ll see, but I’m optimistic.
At this time of year, I always feel optimistic. Another winter fading, another spring ahead. Optimistic isn’t quixotic. In general, the odds are in our favor. Things tend to work out. Not for each of us, not in the end, but in the long run for all of us and those yet to come.
Optimism isn’t for saps or sissies. Optimism is for realists who can make it happen. The flip side of Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go right will go right. Optimism makes us look forward, which helps us move forward, as we must, as we were meant to. Time to get a move on.
The tree out my bedroom window these days is sunlit by 7 a.m. The sun has found it, blessed it, worked its morning magic on it, flashlit by the strongest flashlight in our corner of the universe. Each day is a miracle of cosmic connection, the Earth tilting ever more slightly toward the sun for the next four months. A nod, an extended bow, and our days lengthen, our thermometers rise, our spirits soar. In the morning, we bend to the east, open our arms overhead at noon, gaze longingly to the west in the evening.
Optimism must be some kind of law — like gravity, which holds us in place when all we want to do is fly. So we compromise. The Earth grounds us underfoot, leaving the rest of us free to reach for the stars. That reach is optimism and will not be denied. It is why light needs the darkness to shine, why air bubbles rise to the surface of the ocean, why life rose to the surface and climbed onto dry land. It is the reason we break through barriers and obstructions and come out the other side.
It could all go so wrong. But it could also go wildly right.
Living on Earth isn’t for conspiracy theorists. It’s for visionaries.
Just ask Don Quixote.