My father always told me, "Never ever be a pessimist!"
I have not been so good at following this advice.
Today we like to confuse cynicism and pessimism for realism, and I am one to do so every now and then when it hurts too much to hope.
Sister Alice is the opposite: an unfailingly positive person but not naive or blind to suffering.
After some rumination, I discovered exactly how she could be so optimistic: Her optimism is combined with an acceptance of the negative and a belief in change combined with generosity. Throughout her whole life, she has worked to aid her corner of the world by serving without expectation of compensation.
During our second meeting, Sister Alice pointed out to me that I was far more relaxed than I had been the first time we met. I admitted that it was because of my race; being the only black woman involved in a project that had been open to the entire study body, where all the professors are also white women, I had been insecure. In situations like that, I am hyper-aware of my race, careful to speak, act and carry myself in a way that deflects (or that I think deflects) the judgement of my peers and superiors.
Unsurprisingly, Sister Alice had spent her teaching years with a great number of students with a similar background to mine, and in discussing controversial topics, I found myself comfortable sharing and discussing my opinions whereas normally I keep silent to avoid confrontation.
Throughout it all, Sister Alice was never defensive but accepting -- and well-educated and tolerant to boot.
I have seen this tolerance, patience and positivity radiating from her every time we speak, and it’s encouraging to meet someone who really understands what it means to enable the disadvantaged. My mother, who attended Catholic school her whole life, once told me one Catholic sister who taught her engendered great self-confidence and high-self esteem in her students. Imagining an optimist like Sister Alice leading a class, I can certainly believe that!