Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Search Of: Optimism

Six years ago today, a phone call woke me up for the second time that morning. The first time was when Mrs. Word Player got up to go to work, after which I promptly fell back asleep. The phone call was from a close friend who worked at CNN Headline News in Atlanta. She told me that a plane had struck the World Trade Center, that it was apparently no accident, and was asking if we were OK.

By the time I got dressed and ran up to the roof to see, a second plane had struck the towers. Words cannot describe the feeling of shock, how time seemed to slow down, and how scared I was. Mrs. Word Player called from work, and soon would return to our tiny West Village apartment with several of her workmates in tow. We numbly watched the news coverage, drank scotch, and made and fielded phone calls checking on friends and loved ones.

taken from our rooftop at 14 Horatio St. on my 30th birthday, 8/24/01

The acrid smell of smoke and scorched metal would waft up to us later that morning and linger for weeks.

taken from the same rooftop 18 days later

And of course, all of our memories of that morning will linger for the rest our lives. I'm a big fan of milestones and statistics, eras and epochs, and as I've been thinking about today's sixth anniversary of 9/11/01 I've thought about how it demarcated my own life.

From 8/24/71 to 1/28/86 I was an optimist. Until my gym class that day, freshman year of high school, when we were called back to our class and informed that the Space Shuttle Challenger had disintegrated shortly after liftoff, I had no question that the future would be even brighter than I could imagine (and to paraphrase Han Solo, I had imagined quite a bit). I was a sci-fi kid, and I was certain that in my lifetime I'd be visiting Space Stations and Moon Bases. SPACE: 1999 and The Martian Chronicles had been huge favorites of mine, and they weren't set so far into the future that I couldn't believe.

Anyway, from 1/28/86 to 9/11/01 I was a realist, with cynical tendencies. After 9/11, I began skewing more and more pessimist. No need to go into detail, but suffice it to say that I no longer saw a bright future for the people of Earth.

But wait, there's more?

NYC-based artist and graphic designer Reed Seifer (pronounced like "cipher") created his Project Optimism long before 9/11/01, but for me it has taken on a special personal meaning in the months and years since then. He has incorporated the word and the spirit of "optimism" into a variety of media and format, but the one that I thankfully can't seem to stop thinking about is his series of brightly colored buttons with the single word "optimism" emblazoned on them.


Life can appear cripplingly complicated to me at times, and the fact that a simple button with one word on it can be so powerfully affecting comes as a great relief.

The Optimism of childhood was a gift, but I've come to realize that the Optimism of adulthood is a choice. It's not whether you see the glass as half full or half empty, it's how hard you work to add just enough to the glass that it's no longer a judgment call.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I look at the positive side of all the negative things that happened to me. That, again, is a choice of perspective, and I’ve only learned in the past decade how important that sense of perspective can be. My sister and brother and I all grew up under the same circumstances, and I don’t think it strengthened them in the way it strengthened me, but then, others would also look at my strengths as weaknesses." -- Marc Jacobs