I happened across this from Mark Twain, “There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist.” At first, these were merely words prompting a flash of truth but seeming not to stick, not to pass beyond the barrier we construct to protect us from painful truths. I moved on to read more words, this time from James Branch Cabell, “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.”
I had nearly managed to escape from Twain’s painful truth when Bill Vaughan nudged me back, “An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” But what if the old year isn’t leaving? What if your world, the one where you are a young pessimist, is the best of all possible worlds for you? What if what you see is all you get, as good as it will ever be?
My desire not to look directly into the sad face of Twain’s pessimistic child is strong. If you too feel you have to look away, so be it. I understand. We can look away together, telling ourselves our optimism is a choice we make, a choice anyone can make, including sad children.
We look away together, even though Kin Hubbard reminds us, “Being an optimist after you’ve got everything you want doesn’t count.” It likely doesn’t count either when you only have most of what you want but have prospects, the possibility of a better world for you personally.
What if you are nine–years–old and failing school, only to be told it’s your fault since you don’t try hard enough, don’t pay attention, don’t follow instructions, don’t settle down and do your work? No, you are probably not specifically told it’s your fault but as you repeatedly hear the litany of what you don’t do, you hear the message – you get it.
What if you are five–years–old and chronically neglected and maltreated? You receive little to none of that tender loving care all children desire and require throughout their nurturing years? Perhaps your world improves for a few days or a few months but the bad times always return; they just keep coming back.
What if you are sixteen–years–old, being sexually used by people who are supposed to care for you, care about you? What if you are expected to fend for yourself at home, at school, in your community, with no help, no one to guide and support you? What if you are essentially on your own?
I could add to the list ad infinitum but if you don’t already get the point, your barriers are already too impermeable to permit a sad child to pass through to where you feel sad for him or her, feel nearly as sad as the child.
I don’t have a grand plan, insightful advice, or magical solution. Today, thinking about Twain’s young pessimist is just making me feel sad, holding my emotions, not letting me look away.