Sometimes I wonder why things are the way they are. No - I wonder why things are the way we make them. Why?
When I was 12, Elsa and Iilya and I were on a hurried trip to Cleveland from New Delhi. We left Palam airport in the middle of the night and flew to Tel Aviv. In the darkness, at Tel-Aviv, our jet was swarmed and boarded by big men in dark suits. Adults, separated from the children, were forced off the plane. Iilya and I sat for hours staring out the jet's window, watching Elsa inside the terminal. She stood against the window, watching us back. Hour after hour she smoked cigarettes and watched us. Why did someone make this happen? What was the dominating attitude? I thought 'surely people don't accept this attitude, do they?"
One summer in Beirut, I learned that my physical body was a mere tool to the Lebanese men. I was an object to be touched, pushed, shoved, fondled. I hid within my father's overcoat. Why did someone make this happen? What was the dominating attitude? Again, I thought 'surely people don't accept this attitude, do they?'
So here it is Thanksgiving. Families gather. Friends without family come to our house. Only one family member will be joining us. The one with defensive pessimism. The one who objects to driving to our house ('I don't like to drive that far. You know how I hate traffic'). Or who resents the gathering ('Why do you have to have THOSE people? You know they are only coming for the free meal'). Or who doubts you can pull the dinner off ('where are you going to make us sit? You know how I hate soft chairs.').
Before the gathering can start it is ruled a disaster. A failure. Oh, I hate hearing these dominating attitudes! Why does someone adopt this pessimism? And I think 'surely people don't have this attitude, do they?'
David Rakoff has written the book Half Empty. In the book, he introduced me to the term 'defensive pessimism'. I have seen it modeled all my life. Now I know its name.
And I give thanks that the defensive pessimism gene skipped me. Even the doubts planted won't take root.
Thanks to my friends and family, and for the dominating attitude that is Thanksgiving. For this, I give thanks.