Words by: Lochie McKay Art by: My Tieu Ly
I think my love affair with the bright side of life started when my dad and I watched Monty Python’s Life of Brian — we’re the only two people in our family of six who loved that movie. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Brian is mistakenly believed to be the messiah, despite his protests that he is just an ordinary guy. He is then sentenced to death and while all his followers and his girlfriend have the chance to save him, they instead vow to preach his teachings and form a new religion in his name. So, as he is hanging there after being crucified, his buddy the next cross along tells him to “cheer up you old bugger, give us a grin” and launches into song. Needless to say, the joke never fails to get a good laugh out of me.
For those who have met me, it’s no surprise that I’m describing myself as the eternal optimist. I even look the part. With reddish-blond hair and a grin that seemingly never falters, I’ve been labelled the golden retriever of most of my friend groups. I take it as a compliment, as I’m a big fan of dogs and I love that my friends would consider me so loving and loyal. It makes me smile just thinking about it. Now I know some people aren’t big fans of these gorgeous and energetic pets, and conversely, a lot of people aren’t always big fans of us optimists. ‘Naïve’ is often a word that gets thrown about. ‘Silly’ is another. And they’re not always wrong — I am silly when the mood’s upon me. I am terribly naïve when it comes to my own commitments about getting down to the gym.
But I choose to see the glass as half full — not because I think the world is perfect, but because I know that if the glass is half full, it can be filled the rest of the way.
I would say it’s almost my superpower to be constantly optimistic. Not in a way that some optimism is characterised as crossing fingers and hoping for the best, but in a rooted belief that when I get out of my bed each day, I know I can go out and do some measure of good. That might be kindness or solidarity with my peers, having good humour and love with my family and my partner, or by moving through the world respecting each of its inhabitants. I know that it’s only a small drop of goodness, but it flows each time I get up and go. It helps fuel my writing and my thinking; it’s how I get myself up in the morning.
The awesome Martin Luther King, Jr. quote — “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” — is apt, and it’s important to know that as an optimist, you are always in the “arc-bending” business, trying each day to shape the world towards justice. Knowing that this is the business I’m in gives me joy, and helps me cherish the best parts of each day. It also channels my efforts to understand the immense challenges of our time, and in that understanding, there’s the belief that our actions can work towards meeting these challenges no matter what.
And sure, like everyone, I have my low points. Optimism has its drawbacks. It’s impossible to always be looking on the bright side of life. I suffer from chronic migraines, which are often triggered by things like heat, hot chocolate, too much physical exertion, and even by certain types of lighting. First, my vision goes funny, and I see stars and auras. Next is the pain. It’s almost a crescendo; a symphony that deafens me, blinds me, and shatters my thoughts. After, waves of nausea roll through like the tide, all I care about is getting rid of the pain. And it can last for days, weeks… My worst lasted for three months. So yeah, it’s a pretty fucking unpleasant experience. But I think if I can make my life work despite this, then maybe things aren’t so bad.
One of the jokes that I love to tell is the one about the Optimist and the Pessimist. The Pessimist says, “things can’t possibly get any worse” and the Optimist says, “Oh yes they can!”
*Cue the outrageous laughter*
But the optimist isn’t wrong — things can always get worse. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is turn on the TV, look outside, or look at your phone. The worst is right there. But to me, that just means that there is more to be done; that there’s more to be passionate about fixing and saving.