I use this term a lot and spend a lot of time looking for silver linings now that I’m in the middle of dealing with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC). From doing a little research, I found this historical source of the term from 1634:
John Milton coined the phrase ‘silver lining’:
Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
I did not err; there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night,
And casts a gleam over this tufted grove.Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
Reading what others have written, whether in the past or more contemporary, has been a huge part of my own process. I suppose it goes back to the fact that I’ve loved to read ever since I could (in family lore, that was around 3 years of age), perhaps my B.A. in Literature, where we were pushed to decode writing, or maybe its just that it seems so magical when someone else writes something that seems to have arisen directly from your own mind/heart/gut. When reading other blogs or books or articles written by other men and women going through a serious or terminal illness, I’m usually taken aback by the amount of times it seems that the other writers are literally in my head.
I suspect that goes back to the human shared experience and how there are so many sources of trauma that affect all of us in similar ways.
In the example above, the author is talking about a “sable cloud,” which is likely a dark cloud covering the light of the moon, making it difficult to see clearly. Since what is being described is a physical phenomenon, it is a metaphor that would resonate with most people who have access to a night sky. The dark or sable cloud can also be a metaphor for a difficult time or trauma or anything that causes a situation or experience to be difficult, which expands and deepens the conversation.
Then, the author includes the concept of a silver lining along with the pronoun “her.” For anyone who has been outside during a night with a full moon and few clouds, the glowing lining around the cloud will be familiar as it looks otherworldly until the cloud moves and the moon pops out as the reason. Since the moon is usually referred to in the feminine, I suspect the pronoun “her” is referring to the moon herself; however, I also suspect that is open to interpretation.
Continuing this metaphor of the moon behind the clouds, when the night is dark or there is a difficult situation, that means the light or the way forward or the hope often looks or feels inaccessible. And so before we ever talk about a silver lining or being able to see or experience a silver lining, the basic prerequisite is a dark night or struggle.
Thus, without a struggle or dark night of the soul, a silver lining is simply inaccessible.
In the middle of trauma or struggle, there is literally no way to fully see or process what is going on. By definition, experiencing a trauma means that your brain and its functioning is affected significantly. In essence, one’s access to executive functioning and the ability to think logically can be completely severed and the flight or fight instincts take over. When this happens, there is no way to see clearly, everything is affected and obscured by the struggle.
It’s only later when the initial concern or trauma has had some space or time to live/sit with the issue that then the outline of the trauma can be seen. Once the outline of the trauma, it’s definition and scope, can be seen and perhaps defined or understood, then a silver lining could come into view. Continuing the metaphor, without a light beyond the cloud, without the hope of something in the future past the issue, there is no silver lining.
Therefore, looking for the silver lining, looking outside the box of the trauma or difficulty, is looking for the hope that shines behind it. The silver lining beckons us, it inspires us, it communicates that there is something beyond the current moment, the sable cloud.
And that keeps me going.