Sunday, November 26, 2017

optimism of the present

"Let us press onward whenever the path, however uncertain, seems to lead upward."
—Ted Hesburgh

As I drove through Hudson, Wisconsin, I passed a sign on the freeway.
America! (it said with an exuberantly sincere exclamation mark painted in blue paint) Let's gather together! Our best days are still ahead.
Immediately, I was struck by the blatant optimism of that sign, and how radical such an assertion is. Who talks that way? Who believes that the American project is not fundamentally flawed, corrupted, and careening towards disaster? Who believes that we are not on the brink of multiple crises that will destroy us from the inside if not from without? Who believes that Apple or Amazon will not take over our lives, turning us from happy, radiant individuals into mindless consumers of goods we do not really want, living in a technologically dictated society that we can only respond to, but never escape.

The underlying assumption of all of our radical partisan not-communication seems to be: well, we're pretty much all screwed, isn't that so? All narratives are a narrative of decline. Pessimism is the currently trending zeitgeist. Ironic pessimism, tragic pessimism, nihilistic pessimism, all are permissible, provide you are on board with the idea that everything good is mostly dead, and we are simply trying to scratch by in the shadows of a formerly civil society.

I thought of how nostalgia was inherently anti-Christian. Pessimism even more so. For, to the Christian, now is the acceptable time. Today is the day of salvation. God's love is here, in the present. Not yesterday, before we sinned, or two years ago, when we were more charitable, or before our hearts were broken and we were more trusting. God's love is here. And as long as the present continues, then will not that moment be the best of all possible moments, for it is a moment in which we can taste heaven?

Optimism, I suppose, is not a Pollyanna-ish belief in the sunshine of the future, but a sincere gratitude for the present, and a belief in the love that comes to greet us in each moment.

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