At the dawn of a new millennium, we shook off the dirt of a tired century of brutal war.
We stumbled, our eyes raised in question, mistaking a common sunrise for the blinding light of a new era.
The journey to that horizon was not unmarked by grief. We were met just across the centurial threshold with a knife to the gut. It doubled us over, and for a time we knelt and clawed our wound.
Time passed. We healed. We slowly straightened, our eyes fixed again ahead, and
we took another step.
Despair was not unknown then, either. Our youth, as has always been its duty, swung its angry fists and battered back the choking arms of misdirected tradition. Our wealthy, as will always be their instinct, walked the mill-wheel and turned the screw to crush the have-nots that struggled for light. Our fearful and misunderstood, as has always been their tragedy, took weapons of war against their neighbors where air and light were too scarce to share.
New frontiers opened in sex, and our concepts of identity exploded like brilliant fireworks in the face of a slow and primitive social eye. Love and terror and wonder and revulsion in waves of “it is” and “it cannot” rocked through us, but we walked on.
In the clarity and warming glow of that millennial sunrise, we found out strength in what we shared, and not in how we differed. We found progress in embracing new thought, new ideas, and we swallowed the bitter medicines of acceptance and honesty. We were prepared to examine our weaknesses, celebrate our talents, and stride more confidently into the unknowable roads of time.
We were optimistic. Confident. Arrogant.
A blind spot festered in that forgotten gut-wound. The harm of the old world had not been laid to rest, but had found fodder unnoticed in our own bowels. The ways and wars of the past were alive inside of us, poor and jealous and unseen, but safe.
The wealthy saw it first. Like hounds hunting hares, they smelled poverty and took to the hunt. The fearful and misunderstood heard it next, a whisper from bloody gods, and they sacrificed their neighbors to its cause. Unseen in the fertile vastness of our gut, the infection thrived.
It grew its own eyes, and saw that ours was the body and blood, the strength and heat of life. Its was the cancer and consumption, that which eats the living. It watched our legs take confident strides forward, though the ground was often uneven and difficult. It followed our eyes to the rising sun, though the light sometimes blinded our way. The fearful and angry mass within us saw prey and prepared to feed.
Roiling from the gut of us, the festering wound took hold of vital organs and we found ourselves falling, sickly, frozen in the disorienting horror of the miseries we had forgotten. War. Bigotry. Hatred. Sexism. Violence. Hatred. Rape. Murder. Predation. We had never shed these sins, only swallowed them. Somewhere beneath our beating heart, they had defied the antibodies of progress and justice.
We had been blinded by optimism. Optimism failed.
But we will not die.
The body is young. The blood is strong. The heart will deny this cancer its spread. We have found it, and in revealing itself, it has destroyed itself. We will invent a new treatment, one that is targeted. Where there is bigotry, we will dissolve it with tolerance and solidarity. Where there is hatred, we will appear with love. Where sex and gender, ethnicity and culture are under assault, we will demand that capability and opportunity are universal gifts and cannot be taken by ignorance. Where violence is the path of sickness, we will bring healing through unbounded unity.
Optimism is our way of life. It is the strength through which we defeat the sickness of our collective body. We hold to it as our greatest asset and our sacred creed. We will look ahead. We will smile. We will take strides in spite of the elements around or inside of us that look to hold us back. We will embrace not only the familiar, but that which is least familiar to our ways. We raise each other up and allow ourselves to be carried in kind.
We are the optimists. We are fallible. Our failures are hard, and we must remember the days when we failed. The unseen infection, as much a part of us as heart, lungs or liver, will have its day of notice. And then, healed by our furious optimism, we will dismiss this sickness and carry on toward a sunrise, common or otherwise. The next day is always ours.