We sat around the table at a downtown restaurant, a group of women all well into middle age and beyond, savoring a few easy minutes in the final crazed days of the holiday season.
Looking around, it occurred to me the eight of us would make an excellent focus group. One is divorced, one widowed. Four are married, one is in a committed relationship and one is comfortably single and says she plans to keep it that way.
There is one attorney, one CEO, one retiree, one stay-at-home mother (who, in fact, had been in banking before marrying at the age of 40 and quickly producing two newborns in as many years) two self-employed, one unemployed and one clinging to a job she hates.
One of us is a vegetarian, one is sensitive to a long list of foods. The rest of us agree we eat too much of everything.
We are all very different women from different backgrounds. Between us, we have 12 children and three grandchildren with one more on the way, we speak three languages and at least two of us play a musical instrument. Our incomes range from “barely making it” to high six-figures. Our levels of education go from “some college” to advanced degrees.
But, by the end of December we all have one basic thing in common: we’re exhausted. And this year it seems worse than usual. Talking about it, we finally realized we’re suffering from a deep collective uneasiness; a lack of confidence we just can’t shake.
Usually, as one year ends and another begins, it’s human nature to salve any wounds with the belief that there are better things to come. The political climate will thaw. The economy will bloom. They’ll finally discover a chocolate-based cure for cellulite. But this year, one of us finally said it out loud. As we lifted our glasses to toast the end of one year and the beginning of another, one of the women around the table asked, “But what if next year is even worse?” We laughed but then all fell silent.
No matter what social strata you call home, the state of the world is fragile these days. So many people are out of work and many have been for quite a while. And some who’ve managed to hang onto jobs are bringing home significantly less than before. Retirement dreams have been put on hold and skyrocketing college tuition is taking a toll on family budgets or, more and more, becoming a luxury many can’t afford. And, then there’s Europe’s leaky financial boat, tethered to our own.
Finally, after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, I raised my glass again.
“Next year will be what it will be,” I said. “And I’m willing to believe it will be a good one.”
“Always the optimist,” a friend said as she smiled at me, and I shrugged. It’s true.
There are some who believe that optimism is baked into our DNA. It is a part of who we are from the moment we’re conceived. I don’t know about that but I do know it just isn’t in me to be anything else. It keeps me moving forward and helps me find my way. The way I see it, optimism, another word for hope, is like a candle on a dark path. And we’re only truly lost if we lose that light.
So, here's to another year, and all it might bring. Here's to a bright and optimistic future.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org