At school I was once chastised by a 'friend' for being too positive. Yes. Me. 'You always see the good in everything. It's so annoying.' Was it? Well, mum had taught me to 'count my blessings' and 'smile when the going got tough.' Clichés featured heavily.
Still, seeing the good in people, life, in the world: what was wrong with that? In response I was nonchalant; a shrug of shoulders and the straightening of my school tie. But underneath my air of indifference, I ached. That one remark carved itself on me like an unwanted scar.
Unnerved, I thought about it for days. Sure, I saw the good in things. Championed happy endings. Appreciated silver linings. Tread in dog poo and I'd thank the stars I was wearing shoes.
Whenever something bad was said, I'd defend. In my eyes, there was a reason why that boy was so angry that he threw chairs across the classroom, or why that girl's uniform was never clean. I may not have know what it was but there was always a bigger picture. There was always a beginning - and middle - to everyone's story.
And yes, I had a penchant for smiling at strangers; the old lady at the bus stop, the pram-pushing mother on the street. Even if my smile could not elicit one in return, it did not matter. They were in a hurry; they weren't in the mood; it was a grey area. Understood.
Even so, I didn't think these things were noticeably a nuisance. But yesterday, as I voiced my anger on the news, mum sighed: 'You should look on the bright side a bit more often.' I wasn't sure how one could 'look on the bright side' of someone doing only two years for murder, but at that moment the point was shelved. Like the new pain of an old injury, memory stirred.
Looking back, to that moment outside the food hall, I understand. Confronted by peers, my thirteen year old self was afraid. Defend the foundations of my personality? As if: courage was just a word in the dictionary. My 'annoying' optimism was wrong in the eyes of my so-called friend. And so my ability to believe in the unbelievable, to treat people as I found them, was bludgeoned out of me with one cruel and unnecessary remark.
Well, I certainly thought so at the time. As a result, through choice or circumstance, I allowed it to change me. Like a guilty secret, I hid that side of me for so long it started to fade. But it never disappeared. It was always underneath the surface.
Life often makes it hard to be optimistic. Repeated knocks and obstacles only serve to dampen the spirit and lose faith. Black and white, ignore the grey. It feels easier to accept defeat and wallow in the gloom. I've done that. We all do. It's the norm. But sometimes it doesn't hurt to take a walk on the bright side. In fact, it feels quite good...