Silver Linings

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.

25 thoughts on “Silver Linings

  1. “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.” – seems a theme for me also right now 😊 I always thought considering “hope” as not a strategy (usually referenced in sports) was ill-defined, since once what we can think of trying rationally is all used up, and hope is all you got, it’s a wonderful strategy to hang on to. Interesting post, Abigail – thank u! 😊

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    1. I agree that hope is a term that is often used different ways, which is why I’ve struggled to define hope in my own context, that of a terminal cancer patient. I think what we hope for is different in different situations and I’m still trying to figure out what even to hope for in the midst of my own experiences. It’s a lot and trauma is a big issue that affects everything.

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      1. β™₯️ I can only imagine, at this time; it’s at points in my life that, emotionally at least, when β€œwhat even to hope for” figured strongly in my life, that hope mattered most. Having hope, and having a dream, must be very close relatives!

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      2. So very true!! I find that those of us who have truly suffered, who have had to look hard for that hope in the midst of struggle, those are the most compassionate and empathetic people. I can often tell when someone has not truly encountered hardship in their lives. I would never wish that experience on anyone, yet I see how it changes people for the better when it does happen. Food for thought.

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  2. I love this post, Abigail. It took me back to grad school at its most enjoyable, then propelled me forward with a poetic look at overcoming the inevitable despair associated with crisis. Beautifully doneβ€”and inspiring, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awwww, thanks!! It was fun to be interpreting and analyzing poetry again like I did in college. I do look at things very differently now versus when I was 17, though. Thanks for reading and for thoughtfully commenting. πŸ™‚


  3. 🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞🀞

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  4. β€˜I’m usually taken aback by the amount of times it seems that the other writers are literally in my head’ I was thinking about Silver Linings just this morning. Great blog X

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  5. This is beautiful, Abigail. I, too, love Milton, especially Paradise Lost. Your point about the darkness preceding and pointing beyond our trauma was excellent. A+

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  6. This is so true! I love silver linings! Without them, hope would be such an illusion. I read semi-recently, the only way to step into the light is to step out of the darkness (something like this). To me, silver linings are the light in the midst of darkness.


  7. A sable cloud – a coat around the moon. The shine of her gray eyes. The loaded interpretive dances we share in our common language created a beauty upon which we can still rise to find that within the differences of our lives are the beauties of our minds – collectively a storm of intelligence, creating a language we too understand one another and for me therein lies the silver in the alchemists brew. It’s our tribe, our common ground, our meetings of the heart and soul where I find the only beauty in cancer. People who I cherish but for this rancorous horribly painful disease I’d never have met. And when I say the only silver lining, I mean the only one. I could understand the meaning of gratitude and living in the present, and yoga, and being a vegetarian, and living a life of service not one of giving (huge difference) to allow for enough quiet of my mind to get to transcendental meditation and the colorblindness instilled upon my youthful heart because my father had that great of an influence and it took no violence on his part just leading his daughter by example, yet I lost him to stupid brain cancer in 2013. It takes and it takes and I’m truly trying to stay above the torrential downpour causing a rising flood around my stomach to not drown me from those rain clouds. The sable moonlit beautiful southern Florida style nights I’d never forget. Ever.

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