Life isn’t about waiting for storms to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.
Beautiful sentiment, yes? Sure, until you reach your tipping point. Until experience extends beyond the place these sentiments can reach and their wisdom is reduced to empty-caloric, sugar-coated babble.
My friend tossed me this platitude recently.* She emailed to ask how I was. My reply included a paragraph about my Chronic Fatigue/Epstein-Barr and how I struggled to get through work. I didn’t go on and on about it, but did share honestly.
She replied that her niece has the same problem, but goes about her life because she has to.
That type of response is called “discounting” because she discounted the value of my experience and assumed it was of equal worth with someone else’s. Then came the quote about dancing in the rain.
I felt myself react, but made a choice to let it go. One month later she wrote another email with “Dancing in the Rain” in the subject line. Her email ended with, “Remember. Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” What was initially annoying became as a fly buzzing incessantly in my ear. My kindness hadn’t killed a thing. I needed to swat back, so I replied:
I don’t care for platitudes about dancing in the rain. They work to a point, and then they ring hollow. It’s not a negative. It’s just a reality.
I haven’t heard back.
My friend enjoys a health privilege. When we talk about privilege in our society, it’s usually in the context of racial or economic disparity. Those who have never known anything but privilege are often highly opinionated, and clueless, toward those who struggle.
I enjoy a children privilege. I have loving relationships with my adult children, who are self-sufficient and good to their mother. Their teen years were a pleasure and I didn’t experience the challenges many parents do. I don’t take credit for it. People say I should, and I suppose I had something to do with it, but in truth they just came out that way. Easy. Low maintenance. I got lucky.
My friend has pretty much everything — except the love of her children. They’re estranged, one of them having gone years without speaking to her. She had shared her disappointment and pain one Mother’s Day when she didn’t hear from the one daughter and the other, the good one, chose to spend the day with her boyfriend’s family, only sending her a text. How would she have felt if I’d told her to learn to dance in the rain? I’m guessing it would have stung and made her feel even more alone.
I wouldn’t think of offering her parenting advice. What would I say? I have no experience with estranged children. Any advice she might need is outside my realm of knowledge because my privilege cushions me from the hurt and struggle she experiences as a parent.
The one who plays piano by ear wouldn’t know how to teach another to read music and play piano. She jumped from A to Z because of an advantage from birth and has no clue about the process.
When it comes to health, it’s easy for my friend to dance in the rain because she’s sheltered from the storm. Anyone can dance to the beat of thunder inside the warmth of a house. When she says these things, I erect an invisible wall because I recognize the platitude to be a flimsy pacifier. A white noise machine to silence the ugly sounds that puncture the veil of happy.
I’m not opposed to dancing in the rain. It’s a good thing when you pull it off, but here’s how it plays out in reality:
On my best days, I dance in the rain.
On my worst days, I fixate on dark clouds and see little else but blackened sky.
On most days, I’m somewhere in between. I may not dance, but I manage to notice the flowers and the way the drops of rain bead and slide down the petals. I see the shrubs and trees, how their leaves pop with new shades of green that remind me the rain brings out the beauty in living things, even if that beauty is rooted in sadness.
I listen to the sound of the rain as it pummels the earth. The mystery is if I listen closely, I hear the whispered secrets of the very thing that dampens my world.
To be told life isn’t about waiting for storms to pass sounds like life in prison to the soul caught in a violent storm. Looking forward to the sun’s return sustains us with hope for better days.
Dancing in the rain is only part of life. A small part. To insist otherwise is to disengage from a myriad of human emotions and deny oneself the full spectrum of experience. It’s time our society stops shaming those who feel their sadness. A bandage may stop the bleeding, but soon it must be ripped off so the wound can air and heal.
If life gives you lemons, do as you wish, but know that lemonade is not the only recipe that makes good use of lemons. And lemonade, like platitudes, is filled with sugar. While it tastes good as it swirls in your mouth, it really is full of crap.
* FYI: This is the same friend I mentioned in my post, Cancer Girls With Big Mouths.