“I can’t be a pessimist because I am alive.”

Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Warm Mid-Autumn greetings from Viet Nam!

How many of you are familiar with this quote from the great James Baldwin?

I can’t be a pessimist because I am alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter. So, I am forced to be an optimist. I am forced to believe that we can survive, whatever we must survive.

I recently shared this with someone who was feeling pessimistic about the current state of affairs in his country and the world. My response was: “If James Baldwin could be an optimist, given the poverty and abuse that he endured growing up, and the racism and homophobia to which he was subjected, so can I – someone who has had a much easier life because of my race, social class, and sexual orientation.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

2 thoughts on ““I can’t be a pessimist because I am alive.”

  1. Tôi không thể là một người bi quan vì tôi vẫn đang sống. Là một người bi quan nghĩa là bạn phải đồng tình rằng cuộc sống con người là một vấn đề mang tính lý thuyết. Vì vậy, tôi bắt buộc phải trở thành một người lạc quan. Tôi buộc phải tin rằng chúng ta có thể tồn tại, dù có thế nào đi chăng nữa chúng ta bắt buộc phải tồn tại.

  2. A related quote from James Baldwin: “Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.”—James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

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