Silver linings

by Irina Slav

I’m no motivational speaker and I never will be but I was thinking the other day that if there’s one single piece of advice I could give my daughter – and anyone else asking for advice — and be perfectly, without a shadow of a doubt, certain that it’s good advice, that would be “Always look for the silver lining.”

That’s not really the same as always looking on the bright side of life, is it? I don’t know but I like the idea of silver linings, plus I really like clouds (the literal ones, not the metaphorical).  This advice is as old as the world, I guess, but it’s a hard truth that can save your sanity, and that’s no joke. You know about stress, right? You are familiar with the concept and the potential consequences? I’m sure you are. And you also know that laughing is healthy — it stimulates the immune system or something, but it’s proven to be beneficial.  So, knowing that, how often do you find things to laugh at? Of course, I don’t mean gloating, I mean laughing at the cloud as the only one who can see the silver lining. But let me illustrate with real-life events.

A few months ago I was in the deepest pit of self-pity, with a kid catching ALL the viruses circulating around (and then passing them on to me, to add flavor to life, of course), and with a job that made me feel like a caged animal. There was not a single day when I didn’t feel utterly helpless. The silver lining? I learned a lot of very, very useful stuff on this job from hell, and the extent of this hell finally pushed me to quit it. I have never, ever, made a better decision in my working life.  And the viruses? Well, we just waited them out, nothing much else you could do about it. An additional, more important silver lining was that this impossible situation reminded me of what my actual priorities in life were, and these very definitely did not start with “work my ass off, age early, die of stress-induced heart attack just to hold onto a steady, regularly paying job.” They actually start with “take care of my family and enjoy them.” I don’t know if spouse support should count as a silver lining here, but he was behind me in that decision, with the very reasonable argument that he can’t stand to see me lash out at him and the kid because someone at work got me angry.

Clouds, of course, vary in size, and so do their linings. In any case, the principle is the same, though, and it is as follows: it could be worse! I’m sure I really surprised you, didn’t I?

Kid breaks a valuable old teacup. It could be worse, she could be sick. Husband develops pneumonia, following the numerous viral infections kindly introduced into the house from the daycare center. It could be worse, now at least he’ll cut down on his smoking. Cat’s sick, no chance of recovery but it could be worse, because there IS a support therapy. yeah, I know, my biggest problems are with the health family members. What can I say, everything is less important than that, even money problems. Which is why, when there’s money problems, the silver lining mantra is…? Exactly, “It could be worse, we could be all sick.”

The thing is that I’ve come to realize that every single situation, and I really mean every single situation, has a positive side, up to and including the death of family members, though I mean older generations of family members.  These positive sides are often extremely self-centered, but then, we’re all selfish, and that’s a fact. The death of a parent makes you more mature, almost invariably. Of course, it also robs you of so many wonderful experiences but I’m talking about the positives here, however tiny they could be.  I’m sure no one in their right mind would see any positive in the accidental death of a child but what if such an accident leads to tougher laws and the prevention of other deaths that would have otherwise occurred? “Not if it’s my child” you will probably say and I will totally agree. That, however, doesn’t cancel the tiny speck of positiveness even in an event so devastating and tragic. I would actually like to be challenged with situations where you can’t see any positive aspect and see what I could come up with . And remember — I never said the good outweighs the bad, it’s just there, always. Very heartwarming I’d say.

PS Over the last two weeks I wrote 31 articles about obituary search in the US, each of 1,000 words. Although it rekindled my always present paranoia about the wellbeing of my nearest and dearest, the job turned around my long-held belief that research is boring unless it could happen on the inside of five minutes. yeah, that’s why I never got my master’s — I could not be bothered to research a 50-page academic paper.

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