I'm en route to the El Rodeo restaurant on West Uintah Street for a meeting of the Westside Optimist Club.
I have a bad feeling about this.
It's built around the ideals of an optimistic lifestyle, but it's hard to be optimistic about anything. Everyone is broke, the world is going to blow up, people are fighting and dying and no one is doing anything about it. The last positive story I saw on any news station was that the Obamas got a dog. When was that, April?
I imagine the Optimists as beret-wearing zealots who will try to lure me into their cult. At least one of them will ask if I'm married and have kids. I am not and don't, and so that person might speculate that I am a lesbian and also, by default, a pagan, and then they would all agree to burn me at the stake while they nibble their righteous tacos and talk about how much better the world will be with one fewer childless, unmarried lesbian pagan.
Now, ostensibly, the Westside Optimist Club — Colorado Springs' official chapter of the Colorado-Wyoming District Optimists and the Optimists International since 1992 — meets at noon every Tuesday to discuss good deeds and good feelings.
The small collection of smiling retirees, one of 3,000-plus groups worldwide, is easy to recognize. We shake hands and they snuggle me in between Dorothy and Donna. Donna makes several good-natured attempts at pronouncing my name. She gets it right, then spends the rest of our lunch, along with Margie, correcting the others when they mispronounce it.
I peer around the table. No berets. There is a banner with the Optimist's Creed (Google it, it's not bad) and an American flag. There's also a bell, which makes things feel official.
Every single person there in some way reminds me of my own wonderful grandparents, except there's no football on and no beer around. I find myself actually feeling welcome, secure and, to be honest, comfortable.
So I'm happy for a moment. But then I catch myself. Optimistic? In today's world?
Cue the existential crisis
The meeting starts off with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance (to America, not the cult). Then Ernie begins running through a laundry list of good deeds the club has performed, to give me a better understanding of what Optimists do. I'm surprised and possibly disappointed to find that there are never any meetings where they just smile at each other. Instead, all Optimist clubs focus on assisting kids in developing their full potential.
The group's recent efforts have focused on District 11's Washington Elementary School, where they help out wherever help is needed: providing pencil-less kids with pencils, purchasing socks en masse for kids whose families can't afford new clothes. They also fill in the financial gaps when it comes to sock hops, carnivals, ice cream socials and the like.
I think about my own elementary years and all of the field trips I got to go on, and all the socks I enjoyed. I then imagine not being able to go to the zoo or visit King Tut's treasure or even purchase a soda at the school's carnival because my family couldn't spare an extra $10.
It occurs to me then that, yeah, everyone is broke and the world is going to blow up, and sure, people are dying and fighting and struggling, but there actually are people out there doing something to help. I'm just not one of them.
Which, of course, makes me feel like an asshole.
I did return a wallet I found once, and one time I took in a lost dog for an evening and let it sleep in my bed. But to be fair, I really wanted the $40 I found in the wallet, and I'd help a stray dog sooner than I'd help any person.
After some internal business and small talk, the Optimists wrap up at exactly 1. They ring their bell. They read aloud the Optimist's Creed. (OK, since you didn't bother to Google it: It's a long list of guidelines for living life in a positive and worthwhile manner.) And then we all shake hands, smile and part ways.
On the drive home, I admit to myself that I'm glad to have met these people. Suddenly, things seem a little brighter, a positive change made possible by osmosis; I've literally absorbed their mellow, do-gooder vibes. Maybe the whole world doesn't have to walk around smiling for it to be worth living in, and the news doesn't have to be good.
We're not talking about just returning wallets and giving stray dogs beds for the night. We've got to do more and do better because we're not Totoros, and we can't just go around hating everything and being forest-dwelling recluses.
Our current Optimists aren't going to be around forever, and some of us are going to have to step in and keep hope alive.
The love you take is equal to the love you make, right?
Let's make a little more love.
So proud of you Catherine!!! I knew you could do it!!!
I read an early draft of Ghostland in 2014 that was written by Jon Orr…