I’m not a huge fan of the saying, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” My husband used to work at a big news organization in Manhattan. They had lots of corporate art in their 6-floor headquarters, including a giant cloud covered in silver leaf. “Every cloud…” I used to roll my eyes every time I saw it. This was a global, sometimes cynical, very worldly news operation that focuses mainly on finance. Lots of silver clouds on Wall Street, are there?
What I dislike about this saying is that, to me, it seems to gloss over the very real, wrenching suffering that goes on in the world, at every moment. All that “silver lining” isn’t going to change the fact that there are very dark clouds out there. It’s just too simple to ignore the world’s pain by glibly insisting that everything is all right. It’s not all right. It’s never all right.
I think we should face our pain, the world’s pain. Deal with it. Treat it, if we can. Accept it, if we can’t.
And the second trick, I think, is to realize that finding bits of joy and happiness in the midst of all that pain takes effort. A “silver lining” doesn’t appear around our dark clouds because we wish it or because we read about it on a poster. We have to seek out the good in the midst of challenges.
- I was diagnosed just before I was set to move from New York City back to my hometown of San Francisco. Because we didn’t know if I would ever be able to work again, we decided to renovate the lower floor of my large childhood home. It was a little humiliating to not buy our own place. And though we made it nice, we were in the basement - the “Beavis and Butthead” zone! But it meant I was there, really there, for the last four years of my mother’s life. And we really bonded with my Mom’s caregivers. That healing and those relationships would never have happened without my cancer diagnosis.
- Cancer treatment hit me really hard. I sometimes felt so tired that sitting up was an effort. Yet my friends and family responded with an outpouring of practical and emotional help. I was in pain, but I felt so, so loved and supported.
- I was, I am, worried about how my cancer affected my daughter, who was 9 and 10 during my treatment and who is now 14. I know there’s still baggage there that she’s only beginning to show me, but I also know that she is unfailingly kind and solicitous of those who are ill. I don’t know if she’d have all that compassion if it weren’t for my cancer.
- The meds I’ve taken post treatment have made me chubby, or if I’m honest, a little fat. Especially in this culture, that’s really a drag, especially when I still eat sensibly and exercise 5 days a week. But it’s forced me to work on letting go of some vanity, on accepting who I am right now. I’m not saying I’m expert at this acceptance, but the effort has been a blessing.
Each of these cancer-related challenges was painful, but each also brought bits of good, moments of joy. Grab those moments. Grab those good things. Grab all you can, in the midst of your pain. That’s the secret to a happy life, I think.