Optimistic or Not

by Rachael on June 9, 2011

On Saturday my temple hosted a retreat with Paul Wapner, an environmentalist and academic and the author of Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism. He led a thoughtful, heartfelt discussion, and afterward I was terribly, terribly disappointed. Unconsciously, I had gone into the retreat with completely unreasonable expectations. I wanted Dr. Wapner — or somebody — to tell me that the world will be OK, that humanity will make it through whatever self-wrought horrors may be coming. But of course, nobody can tell me so.

I want to be optimistic for him.

In fact, at the conclusion of the retreat, one of the participants said that he felt free to let go of trying to be optimistic. Yes, I thought with relief — for a moment. Because, as the mother of a two-year-old Critter, how dare I give up on optimism?

It depends, I suppose, on how long a view I take. After all, as Dr. Wapner pointed out, one way or another humankind will eventually be extinct. The sun will eventually burn out. And the future of the universe is a cold one, littered with black holes and white dwarves. Yes, folks, sometimes I really do worry about that future, billions of years hence, though goodness knows why. Certainly neither I, nor my children, nor my children’s children will ever see that future.

Optimistic or not, I have work to do — right here, right now. And so I’m making small changes again. Heck, I’m even making some big changes: on Saturday, for example, I gave up fish — certainly for a year, and probably for good. I’m also reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes and compiling a list: Learn how to make sauce from fresh tomatoes — no wasting CSA tomatoes this year! Write to President Obama. Learn how to mend. Learn how to sew. No more just thinking about it — figure out how to compost our organic waste. Do those informational interviews; figure out if and how I can get back into the classroom.

Because, all around me — all around us! — there is a world to take care of. A world to love.

From “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved” by Nazim Hikmet (and for goodness sake, do read the whole thing, here):

I didn’t know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn’t worked the earth love it
I’ve never worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love

and here I’ve loved rivers all this time
whether motionless like this they curl skirting the hills
European hills crowned with chateaus
or whether stretched out flat as far as the eye can see
I know you can’t wash in the same river even once
I know the river will bring new lights you’ll never see
I know we live slightly longer than a horse but not nearly as long as a crow
I know this has troubled people before
                    and will trouble those after me
I know all this has been said a thousand times before
                    and will be said after me …

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

teresa June 9, 2011 at 7:20 PM

I see more now why I like you so much. I run similar tracks in my head. Some are circles, some not. Some lead billions of years into the future…
I didn’t know this poem and will certainly read the rest of it.
I can never give up on optimism. I’ve tried. It’s often felt like a curse not to be able to rest for any length of time before some spark of optimism strikes again.
teresa recently posted… Small Changes- week 2!


Kristen June 9, 2011 at 11:14 PM

I know what you mean about feeling that tinge of disappointment at not being able to feel completely immersed in optimism about the future of humanity.

But then I look at my kids, and I feel a glimmer of hope, and a motivation to “do better” for them.

It’s kind of like when I read The Road. I don’t know if a book has ever moved me to feel so much despair…and then (much to my amazement) so much hope.
Kristen recently posted… Dear Baby- Seven Weeks- Six Days


Rachael June 13, 2011 at 10:38 PM

I had not heard of The Road. It sounds harrowing. I can certainly deal with post-apocalyptic worlds that are in galaxies far, far away (e.g., Battlestar Galactica, which I suppose is actually this galaxy, though). But this world …? I don’t like to think about it.

When I look at my boy, I don’t know that I feel hope, but I certainly feel an urgent need to “do better,” as you say.


Melissa June 10, 2011 at 8:58 AM

As illogical as it is sometimes, I have an awfully difficult time giving up on optimism. I, too, continue to make small changes and large ones here and there because, as you say, there is a world to take care of. Thanks for introducing me to this poem, too. I’m off to read the rest…
Melissa recently posted… Whats New Wednesday- This Too Shall Pass


Lucy @ dreamingaloudnet June 10, 2011 at 12:49 PM

Did you see my series a while back on this topic? I find the transition movement a very positive and active take on making ways forward: http://dreamingaloudnet.blogspot.com/2010/11/prepared-family-be-prepared-part-1.html

And also the Radical Homemaking series: http://dreamingaloudnet.blogspot.com/2011/01/radical-homemaking-week-1-beyond.html
Lucy @ dreamingaloudnet recently posted… To school or not to school one year on!


Rachael June 13, 2011 at 10:29 PM

Actually, it was one of your posts on Radical Homemaking that transformed it for me from an interesting-ish book that I would probably maybe read someday to one that I really must read soon. The “Prepared Family” series looks excellent — and a much more positive spin on a topic that I’ve been reading about in a sort-of-old, sort-of-recent issue of Brain, Child.


Lucy @ dreamingaloudnet June 10, 2011 at 12:50 PM

And love the poem, thank you for introducing me to it
Lucy @ dreamingaloudnet recently posted… To school or not to school one year on!


Michelle @ The Parent Vortex June 11, 2011 at 12:47 AM

I too find myself thinking ahead millions and billions of years ahead. When it comes down to it, even solar energy is finite if we’re talking about this one particular sun. And yet, I persist with optimism.

Perhaps this is why I love cheesy sci-fi shows like Battlestar Galactica and Dr. Who, which portray mostly optimistic outcomes for the human race set many thousands of years into the future. That and alien robots. I’m a sucker for alien robots.
Michelle @ The Parent Vortex recently posted… Playful Self-Discipline- In Which The Deities Responsible for Challenges Laugh and Laugh


Rachael June 13, 2011 at 10:24 PM

Ha. I actually enjoyed Battlestar Galactica for its bleakness. Though I suppose that in the end its vision is optimistic. I was upset to learn subsequently that they got Mitochondrial Eve wrong.


Amber June 11, 2011 at 7:18 PM

I really cling to my optimism. Now that I have two children I feel like I need it to see me through. So many of my days feel like hard slogs covered in various bodily fluids. If it’s all for naught, I don’t think I could take it.
Amber recently posted… Chatting with Nonie from Mom’s Breastaurant


Natalia June 13, 2011 at 9:59 AM

Many times I feel difficult to be optimistic about the future of humanity but I tend to think that life is bigger that what we envisage and far beyond human beings. So this is what I think, ” Even without human beings, life will be there”
Not a very optimist thought for a mother of a toddler !! ( At least I tried 😉


Rachael June 13, 2011 at 10:22 PM

In February, when we were all sick, I managed to finish reading The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins, and at one point he envisions a future in which some highly evolved species of rodent rules over the Earth. Unfortunately, I do not remember why he thought that rodents are the best candidates for succeeding humanity in our role as meaning makers.


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