“You’re playing the Polyanna Glad Game again, Honey. There doesn’t always have to be a silver lining,” she smiled her sad, sweet smile as she looked through the rearview mirror back to me, seated in back of our old Honda Civic.
I half-laughed, half-sighed at her silliness. “But, Mama!” I exclaimed. “It doesn’t matter if it has to be or not. It’s just that there IS always a silver lining!”
It was that day I realized how sweet and sensitive my mama was. I worried she was too beautiful and too fragile for this world. To me, she was practically perfect, in the way a delicate work of blown glass might be. Dainty and delightful, her laugh tinkled, her bright blue eyes danced, her freckles played across her face, and her arms were always outstretched ready to give or receive a hug. But she was also sad. If only she could see all the good!
I thought of that scene in the musical Peter Pan when Tinkerbell’s light was fading, she was dying, because not enough children believed in fairies. That’s how my mama seemed to me at my brash, bold ten years of age. Mama even looked like the Disney version of Tinkerbell with her short strawberry hair and tiny figure. At just under five feet tall with pixie-like humor and a child-like voice, the cartoon could actually have been based on her.
She was going through a rough time, I knew that. And her heart was hurting. So much in her life had changed and she was questioning how to move forward. She was also worried about me. I never really understood that, but I do now.
I was always sick. I missed so much school. Something was always wrong with me and I had to see specialist after specialist to try to decipher the genetic code destroying my immune system. But in my mind, I was strong. I was amazing. God was good. Life was a gift. And no matter how bad things got, somehow, it seemed, they always worked out for me and I was okay. There was always a silver lining.
As we drove to the doctor’s office, yet again, I know my mama was worried that someday I wouldn’t be able to find a silver lining and I wouldn’t know how to deal with that. And I was worried my mama would miss out on the joy life had to offer.
Fast forward thirty-some-odd years, and not much has really changed. My world view is still informed by the search for a silver lining. And Mama is still trying to remind me that life is more complicated than that.
As we debriefed my last appointment with my new neurologist tasked with caring for the MS trying to take over my nervous system, I cried as I admitted this disease did not have a silver lining and I didn’t think I got it to learn some sort of cosmic lesson.
“MS just sucks. And that’s the way it is” I gulped between sobs. She took my hand and held me, no words needed.
But, true to form, I moved on and found silver linings. I found the lesson to live life to its fullest. I found motivation to get stronger and eat better and achieve my goals. I realized how healthy and fortunate I was compared to so many. Somehow, I’ve been able to make the glad game not just an appreciative process of gratitude, but a way to get through the hard times–even ignore them.
A few years later, Mama sat across the table from me and held my hands again. This time she asked, “When are you going to stop playing the glad game, sweetie?”
I broke down in tears. I’d been listing all the evidence I could that everyone in my life was doing their best, the evidence that things were good enough, that I needed to be thankful. But I wasn’t just focusing on the good. I was deluding myself into thinking everything was “just fine.”
A silver lining doesn’t mean there isn’t a cloud. I was ignoring the clouds. And I was in the middle of a storm.
My mama, the sweet, sensitive soul I once worried was too fragile for this life showed me what real strength is that day as she let me cry. Real strength is acknowledging what is and moving on with a smile through the good and the bad. I can still find a silver lining but I cannot pretend the clouds aren’t there.
This will be my work this year. I will seek joy and love and light and all the silver linings I can. But I also deserve some sunny days. So instead of pretending the clouds aren’t there, I’ll seek cover, even bluer skies. Because there isn’t always a silver lining, but there don’t always have to be clouds overhead either.