The Bright Side


 

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way…

It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day

—Jimmy Cliff, I Can See Clearly Now

When I heard this song as a kid, the first line always caught my attention. Whether it was actually raining or (more commonly) fair-weathered, I was delighted by the vision of the portrayed moment. A gray sky, dark and heavy, water falling onto dark asphalt. Then a decrescendo of sound, heralding a lightening of the atmosphere—and suddenly, the clouds breaking apart to reveal the glorious light of the sun beyond.

It was questionable whether I had actually witnessed such a grand scene in my life, really, but it made me look forward to the next downpour of rain in our dry state.

That vision probably interfered with my ability to understand, or even hear, the next several lines. Only much later in life did I realize that the moment “the rain is gone” was followed by a greeting from “obstacles in my way”. I definitely didn’t see any stumbling blocks in my dreams of an endless sky. When I came back to reality, back to the world in which the song was rolling out from the radio speakers, I’d sing along to the “sunshiny day” with its echoes of “bright, bright”. To the young me, this was a song of happiness and confidence.

How can Mr. Cliff be so optimistic with looming roadblocks in sight? How does this song remain so obstinately cheerful? Surely it’s easier to hide those obstacles than face them, to keep moving forward without the reminder that they exist to make life difficult. That is not to say that not seeing them makes their existence null, but an extra reminder to worry over solves no purpose. So, this optimism—there has to be more to it than the upbeat chords and harmonies.

This mystery would elude me for awhile, but somewhere along the way I, too, gained an optimistic outlook on life. I’m not sure exactly why or when it happened. But at some point I started looking forward to challenges, too. The more difficult they were, the more likely people were to give up in the face of them, the more eagerly I wanted to tackle that challenge myself.

Possibilities

In some respects, optimism can be tied to naïveté. Ignore the bad things, whether on purpose or through ignorance, and the world looks more rosy. It’s easier that way to jump to conclusions about how easy it is to complete a task, or how there’s a positive spin to every situation. If one has never experienced how truly difficult it is to reach a goal, of course it’s easy to imagine the unrealistic path to success.

But that belief has some flaws. Such a conclusion would imply that the older a person gets, the less optimistic one becomes. The more difficulties that are experienced, the less someone wants to rise to a challenge. Maybe this is why some people assume that only youth can truly do great things.

In reality, I’ve observed the opposite. The youngest of us most easily fall into tantrums. “It’s not fair!” and “I don’t want to!” are common phrases from the mouths of little ones. Those just starting to live life on their own are easily dispirited, jumping from one opportunity to the next. What seemed like a perfect occasion one month looks like a hinderance the next month, and then it’s on to a new job or fad that sounds like it has stellar results. It’s those of us who have many years of experience under his or her belt, who have seen their share of the good and the bad, that has the wisdom to navigate this world and achieve happiness. It’s our elders who look at peace on the park bench, content to observe the life around them and give without reserve.

How many challenges are successfully met by youth instead of precious wisdom, that which is gained ever-so-slowly over time? When a problem comes up and threatens to capsize a team, it is the senior member who is looked upon to guide us back to dry land. When a never-before-seen complication arises, we put our heads together to talk about our previous experiences and how those can inform our current state. Indeed, this is not ignorance that gives us hope, but the possibility, based on previous successes, that we can triumph.

And the elation that comes from overcoming those obstacles? Ah, how sweet life is.

Moving Forward

I’d venture to propose that challenges are what give us our dreams. After all, if life was easy, we wouldn’t waste time on dreams. We’d just reach for what we wanted and move on. (How boring that would be.)

For every dream, there are countless possibilities to imagine. This is perhaps what makes dreams so enticing. We envision the dilemma, then we fancy how we’d tackle it. We could become heroes. Or maybe a mysterious figure comes in and gives us aid when we least expect it, allowing us to overcome seemingly impossible odds. Or, by sheer luck, the stars align and everything falls neatly into place, a series of satisfying clicks and hums that signal that success is in motion.

And why stop there? We solved one problem, onto the next! What could unfold because of that first success? What doors are open now, what opportunities await? Can we extend our reach further? Can we achieve greater accomplishments? Could we solve the biggest problems that our world faces? Since that first obstacle was overcome… well, surely we have a chance at making all of these dreams reality?

Certainly, without the difficulties, we could have no optimism.

Dreams

On the topic of rain and sunshine:

I rode the morning bus earlier this week. Like usual, it was a commute of quiet people reading newspapers, scrolling through phones, and listening to music. The bus was relatively full when I boarded, so I took a stand near the back of the bus, holding onto a silver post in the event of a sudden lurch. I watched the world pass by through the north-facing windows before me. Walls and leaves were dappled in sunlight and misty blue shadow. Some windows reflected the glint of the early morning sun and the rosy sky behind it.

We had gone maybe a third of the way when I felt something cold land on my hair and trickle to my scalp. What was this?

I raised my free hand (the one not holding the silver post) to gingerly touch the spot on my head.

Damp.

Of course… Water.

I looked up cautiously and confirmed the conclusion that already formed in my mind. The emergency exit hatch was propped open, and I was standing directly beneath it.

I didn’t observe much else because my head dipped back to its slightly downwards position from earlier. If more drops came down, I didn’t want them to fall on my face. No doubt it was just some morning mist and condensation from the top of the bus, but the top of the bus was probably filled with particles of smog-filled air and whatever else came down from the sky. Hardly clean.

A new song popped into my head—

 
 

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red…

—B.J. Thomas, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

 
 

And then I had the vision of making my way through town with a little raincloud above my head. A small, square one, that somehow only leaked at its edges. Wherever I’d go, with this bus sweeping me from one end of town to the other, I’d bring a few sparkles with me. The one rain cloud on this late but cool summer day. When others think of singular rainclouds they might be thinking of heartbreak or unfortunate circumstances; but me, I could somehow only see the sunny world beyond the windows before me, the one that was caught in every drop of water, the one that created the beautiful sparkles.

I was charmed enough by this vision that when a large drop of water actually fell on my cheek and rolled precariously towards my mouth, I only had a fleeting moment of irritation before I wiped it off and continued dreaming.

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