“What do you do for a living?” an elderly neighbor asked me.
“I’m a writer.”
“And how does a young writer feel about the end of America?”
It was an abrupt question, but I chose to not show my anger (even though I was angry) and also to not walk away.
“I’m worried about America, and hopeful.”
“Not possible,” he said. “You can’t be worried and hopeful at the same time.”
“I can be, and I am. My worry actually makes me work harder to do better. I’ll always be hopeful about America because I’m confident in my abilities to make a difference here.”
He argued with me a few minutes more but I was unrelenting in my light and optimism, refusing to let him tell me how I should feel about a country that is my home and always will be.
I’ve seen this man numerous times over the 3 years I’ve lived in this building. I’ve never done more than say hello. I’m not sure why he stopped me today or why he chose such an inflammatory topic. But I immediately saw this as an opportunity to practice optimism in the face of pessimism.
As I now embark on this new branch of my career in sustainable urban development, there will be hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of people who will think I’m wasting my time, that our situation is hopeless, particularly in this country and in my city of New York. They will say what I want to do, what I know to be the right and just thing to do, cannot be done and certainly cannot be done by me. There will be as many roadblocks as there are naysayers. I’ve already had to face that, sometimes from good friends.
It’s possible to understand why someone else feels hopeless and to not take that on myself, to continue to move forward without allowing others to drag me down and still understand the feelings of those who don’t share my optimism. It’s a delicate balance; it takes practice and patience but it’s the only way to continue to put my best self out into the world. And that is something I must do, for my own sake, the sake of my community, and for the planet.