I believe in hunting for rainbows. I do not prefer to stumble upon them, or wait for other people to point them out to me. Rainbows are not random. From my home in State College, they appear over Beaver Stadium. When I lived in Ithaca, NY, I looked out my back porch to see them over the McGraw Carillon on the Cornell Campus. Anywhere I stay for any length of time, I prepare for rainbow weather. The angle of the sun must be just so, the moisture droplets plentiful and suspended. I figure out where I’ll have an unobstructed view. Then when I recognize the precise combination of the elements. I know where to gaze. And I don’t waste a second, for rainbows fade with the passing of a rain cloud, and the inexorable lowering of the sun. As a result, I see more rainbows than most people I know.
Rainbows invite explanation, divine, magical, mythological. The Greeks believed they were the pathways of Iris, a divine messenger, the Norse that they connected Asgaard and Midgaard- a way to travel between heaven and earth. The Bible tells us that rainbows are a sign of God’s promise not to destroy humanity, no matter how much we might deserve it. At their elusive ends, the intrepid adventurer can hope to dupe a wily Leprechaun out of pots of gold. I’m with the scientists on this one. The stories are understandable, but I don’t need them. The miracle is that rainbows aren’t miraculous. A perfectly ordinary confluence of every day events creates shimmering beauty, as heart stabbing as it is ephemeral.
Once I learned how to look, I find rainbow events everywhere. A baby falling over from laughing so hard, a hot cup of coffee on a cold day, a good book and a crisp apple enjoyed on a comfortable couch, smiling at an old joke retold by a good friend, each one of these happens when conditions are right, and you’ll miss them if you aren’t on the lookout. The other day I taught a creative writing lesson to some seventh graders who don’t ordinarily like to write, and at the end of period they had all enthusiastically created a page or two, which they proudly showed off. It was the happy combination of so many ordinary things, my teaching experience, the good working relationship I have with the classroom teacher, the mood of the day. And the long term result? Probably none. Short term, it was fifty minutes when schoolwork was actually fun.
By the way, I also believe in the silver linings of clouds and the lemonade made from lemons, and the open windows that replace shut doors. For making the best of bad situations, these are vaguely useful metaphors. But for solid inspiration and getting through the day with grace and cheer, I’ll hunt for rainbows every time.
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