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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
There’s an adage for that (02/26/2006)
By Janet Lewis Burns

"It's a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet and what is sand." - Madeleine L'Engle

It's a revelation revisited again and again - that everyone you come in contact with has weathered a storm, has known loss, fears something, and has felt alone and bereft. "Life, however hard, is preferable to the alternative." - Aesop: 6th century B.C.E.

If an adult person were to deny an experience with any one of life's disparaging challenges, there is tremendous doubt that the person is human.

So often one thinks they are holding up well in the throes of tragedy, and are adhering to "grin and bear it" grieving etiquette. "Better to light one candle than curse the darkness," and all that kind of thing. Then, out of the blue, the sight of a young woman limping can turn you inside out.

You are swept up in a sultry breeze washing over a lake and you fall apart. You spot an apple tree in spring's first, pink floral garb and you are gripped by loss. An old friend waves from across a crowded room and, in deep-seated sadness, you yearn for happier times. "Hope tells us tomorrow will be better."

I think back to one sunny September day in 1979, as our family sat around my dining room table planning Mom's funeral. Meta Lewis went on to new life, having outlived the doctor's prediction of death from pancreatic cancer by six productive years.

We had all done our share of hugging and weeping, eventually taking a time-out. Along with the children, we reminisced, telling old family stories as we savored hot coffee and devoured an angel food cake someone had kindly brought us. Soon we all came alive with giddy laughter.

We laughed until we cried. I guess you had to be there. With mixed emotions, it felt as though our mom (and grandma) was present, remembering with us...memories of the way we were. "Every cloud has a silver lining."

Through generations of entries and departures, family members have come to the wisdom that it's crucial to their healing process to cry with our children, to acknowledge grief. Adult example should give young people freedom to unleash their emotions, to be consoled, and spared confusion and unwarranted guilt.

I remember Mom teasing the grumpies out of us kids, mocking, "Look out! You're going to step on that lower lip!" It was a sure way to replace pouts with grins.

"I cried at first...and then, it was such a beautiful day that I forgot to be unhappy." - Frances Noyes Hart

Conventional wisdom has shone brightly through centuries. "Keep a stiff upper lip" originally appeared in the American Glossary in 1815. Mom knew what she was chortling about!

"Chin up!" As horrible as World War II was, that remark imparted hope to soldiers that soon the warfare would be over. Military recruits chanted, "Chin up! Chest out! Back straight!"

That sounds like a mantra from a Curves workout, or the battle cry on a sequel of "The Biggest Loser!" In any case, "we've come a long way, baby!" During the past few decades words of wisdom were crafted that may go down in history under "Say what?"

The unforgettable "Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys" is a mediocre example. In its day, "stifle it Edith" rocked! Science will forever ponder the question raised: "Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?" (Little Jimmy is a dickens!) Speaking of chewing, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!"

"Kick it up a notch!" Let's get physical! Current medical research has determined that belly laughs and having a rollicking good time greatly increase blood vessel flow similar to results gained through aerobic activities. Couch potatoes, it's a given!

Watching an old John Candy movie as a family - priceless. 


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