The Optimist – A Simple Story

There was once a middle-aged man with a large golden bald spot peeking out of his grey hair. He called it his “mind’s egg,” let people rub it for good luck and joked about its sheen. He was an extreme optimist; in facing everything, he smiled.

He wasn’t always an extreme optimist, as a child he was normal. When he skinned his knee, he would curse. When his childhood crush chose someone else, he cried. When his army buddy died, he got angry because he felt guilty.

But he changed. The change was not instant like some claim to experience; he was not reborn. No, it was a gradual shift in assumptions about the world. Like the tumblers of a lock falling into place, he discovered that there was no “key” to happiness. The world was not happy or sad, people weren’t inherently good or evil, there was no preordained purpose.

These realizations jarred him. They made him feel like he was alone in the world. That he could not connect with others. Sometimes he would walk around as if he was surrounded by a cold fog. Others thought he was depressed. “No no, it’s nothing like that,” he whispered, “I’m just thinking…” And he would trail off.

“You’re too inside your head,” they said, “you need some fresh air and exercise. You need to socialize. You need medicine.”

“It’s nothing like that…” he repeated.

It was strange to him during the times he felt so separate, the people around him were affected by his inner-turmoil. They were all trying to connect with him, but he was in his own world. Slowly, he began to come out of his clouds with ideas that had not occurred to him before. “Maybe it’s up to me,” he thought after one of his moods, “maybe it’s all up to me.” For a moment this freed him, but not for long. The more he thought about it, the more it felt like he was standing in front of a jagged mountain with rocks tied to his legs.

Another time he looked up and said, “Maybe God wants us to think for ourselves.” This made him feel conflicted; on one hand, the responsibility of looking after himself empowered him. On the other hand, he wasn’t sure exactly what this responsibility entailed. Sure, he’d been an “adult” for a long time, but many times he was herded by social structures; they made it easier to get along, but they also took away a certain amount of control.

Still another time he was pulling his car into the garage after work. As he opened the door, he heard his children’s footsteps running upstairs. He heard them laughing as his wife playfully scolded them. Now he felt like Leo in Ray Bradbury’s “Happiness Machine.” There was happiness! Right there, above his head. But he was frozen in time. He didn’t want to release the moment by going upstairs. Upstairs he would have to face the difficulties of raising children and maintaining a marriage. As the moment passed, he saw his children running into the garage.

Throughout these moments, the glacier that had been sitting in his consciousness was melting. Every time he made a positive decision, molecules shifted.

At work, there were naysayers, gloom-and-doomers, and I-don’t-careniks – he began to consciously avoid their ways. When someone would complain to him, trying to get him to join in the collective gossip & gripes – he would demur. Yet, when he addressed the issues in terms of solutions at company meetings or private conversations, people would say, “You said just what I was thinking!” It didn’t happen all the time, but when it did, he made mental note. Decision by decision, his resolve to addressing issues at work increased. One day, there was a crises in the company – at a major meeting, people lacked direction, so he said, “Why don’t we resolve this situation by…” Though his idea was not chosen, it opened the floor to other creative solutions.

It permeated his life. Like an improvisation exercise, every single decision was forced to start with Yes. People told him, “I never thought of things that way!” and when he smiled, they could sense it was real.

Soon, his friends and family began to expect optimism from him. Some people tried to derail him with “hard-facts” and disagreements, they said “He’ll get what’s coming to ’em.” But he just kept moving like there were no other options. By this point, most of his co-workers and friends looked to him for advice or a kind word in trying times. He did his best to oblige.

From things small and large, his attitude remained the same. When he got a stain on his expensive shirt, he’d tell a horrified friend, “No worries, it’s just a shirt.” Even when he lost lots of money in the stock market, he didn’t complain, his lips just formed a far-off smile and he hugged his wife.

Though he didn’t ask for much, those around him were always willing to go the extra mile to acknowledge and help him. He always thanked them and never hesitated to return the favor.

His children noticed his demeanor and adopted it for themselves.

When he got older and his wife died. He didn’t get depressed. When he and the children hugged, tears wiping on shirts, they all said the same thing, “We’ll be all right. It may take time. But we’ll get through.” During the eulogy, he joked about how he’d get the bed all to himself now. Even though he could manage to laugh, his relatives knew he was not being dismissive – they were used to his eyes being bright.

When he died, many people came to the funeral. Though, they all had different beliefs about the existence of an afterlife, but there was one collective thought among them: “Wherever he is now, dirt, sky, or otherwise. He’s doing great.” Somehow, even from the grave, his optimism made life meaningful.

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One Response to The Optimist – A Simple Story

  1. Hillary says:

    I realize you posted this forever ago and my comment is a bit after the fact. I was afraid to comment for fear that maybe I would look silly, but reading it a second time, I still think this is a stroke of genius.

    With the addition of one period and one comma in the second paragraph, you could publish it as-is.

    I feel like you wrote it for me. And I’m sure if I feel that way a bazillion people in the world would feel the same. It’s beautifully written, it’s simple, the voice suits the subject perfectly, and it’s hopeful.

    Thanks for writing it :)

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