Ode to Optimism

Over the past few weeks, I’ve read or heard quite a few accounts from people who were once close to President Reagan. His adoring wife, his humbled vice president, grateful families of soldiers, various heads of various countries; all waxed poetic about the eloquence of the man and all he was to them, the country, to the world, his name etched in the edifice of time.

You’ve likely all heard that he restored the national pride and brought our country back through the toughest of times when morale was at an all time low.

It is that very notion that I best recall when remembering Ronald Reagan; his unwavering, blind optimism. It changed the way I thought for the rest of my life.

With a 10-year Alzheimer hiatus preceding his death, Ronald Reagan slipped beneath the public radar for a while. At least enough to escape the memories of those who are in their 20s and 30s today.

We all comment on the attitudes of today’s troubled and uncommitted teens -– maybe it’s because they missed that very 1980s Renaissance. Maybe they, now, like we, then, have forgotten how to indulge the potential instead of constantly pointing out what’s missing.

You see Ronald Reagan saw our country for what it could be again, not for the weak player it had become. His vision would not be tainted. As a young man I was in route to that kind of “half-empty glass” negativity; but for the grace of Ronald Reagan, there would have gone I.

Turning Point

It was 1979 and I was fresh out of high school and had planned to take a month’s vacation at this up and coming city called Branson, Missouri, with a couple of buddies.

One had an uncle who was rehabbing a camp grounds into a resort in this area and he offered us food and lodging if we put in a month’s labor cutting trees, clearing land, building fishing docks, etc. We were energized by the challenge and packed up my friend’s 1966 Plymouth Barracuda and headed to the Ozarks.

On that fateful journey we were haunted by the idea that we might not make it from gas station to gas station because if we ran out of fuel and ran into long consumer lines at the next station, we might get shut out and stranded; a very real part of 1979.

We had three gallons of gas (safely?) packed with the luggage just in case and made an agreement that whoever was driving would pull in for a fill-up if we were anywhere near a half a tank of gas.

Our thought was if we considered half a tank the same as empty it would ensure we didn’t run out. Though we waited in line more than once, we were never shut out on that trip but I clearly remember sitting in one of those lines and looking at all of these stressed out, overheated drivers and thinking, “This is an illusion. We live in the most powerful country in the world and we are reduced to this? This can’t be right.” Never in my short life had the glass looked more half empty.

As that summer passed and my newly “draft registered” peers and I left for college, I recall thinking that maybe staying home and continuing to make pizzas and coach Little League had more security in it than getting a degree.

Undaunted, I headed off to school and shortly thereafter witnessed the end of a long hostage crisis, hand in hand with the ushering in of our new president, Ronald Reagan.

I’ll never forget watching the swearing-in ceremony. There was something about that look on his face, that confidence in his gait, that air of optimism that was absolutely intoxicating. Nancy’s adoring gaze was too real to discount. She was in the know. This guy was the real thing, man. None of the troubles of the late 1970s even appeared to be near this guy. Those problems were incidental. He had solutions. He knew.

Having been born in 1960 to parents who were absolutely devoted Kennedy Democrats, I recall whispering to myself that I would have to tell mom and dad that their only son was going Republican on them. What could cause such a transformation? It was only one thing -– that complete air of confidence and optimism.

This guy was going forward with or without the skeptics. He even looked like he was looking into the future and his eyes were fixed on a clear vision that anyone was welcome to share.

Page 1 of 3 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. “Suit-able” Attire
  2. Put The Blame On Me
  3. Choose Your Moment
  4. Chew On This
  5. Right To Ask Why
  • Columns
  • Departments