By Abigail Shaha
It had been a really bad weekend. Car problems, guy drama, friend roller-coasters, physical illness ? way too much trouble for one weekend, especially since it all hit Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon, I was down and out, and of course, everyone noticed.
The next several days were spent repeating the endless narrative to sincere friends, relatives and even a few close co-workers. Each listened attentively and did their best to empathize. The sincerity was nice, and so was the compassion. Sometimes there was a momentary release in sharing my burden. But the comfort always ended abruptly when we both ran out of things to say and the other party would throw out some adage like, ?Well, you know what they say: good things come to those who wait,? or, ?My ____ always tells me, ?All?s fair in love and war,?? or my personal favorite, ?Just remember: Life is a journey, not a race.?
Then there was a pat on the back or sometimes a hug and we parted. I?m sure the consoling party felt quite fulfilled; they had listened tentatively and lightened the load of a friend. Hopefully they had even instilled in me some parting wisdom that would lift me out of my depression and back onto my feet. But I didn?t feel uplifted by their paradoxical proverb; I felt confused at how it fit my situation or why it was supposed to make me feel better.
There are millions of adages like those ? all of which apply without applying at all. Good things don?t come to those who wait; just ask any early admissions program or internship coordinator. You gotta walk before you run ? so crawling will take me where I want to go in life? Love means holding on and love means letting go ? bipolar relationships are always the most fulfilling. Time heals all ? how is the thought of waiting out this awful feeling going to heal me?
And yet, in every situation, there is some twist of words or circumstances that can make the proverb apply, paradox and all. That?s because the proverbs all have one thing in common: they?re vague. They?re so ambiguous and clich? they?re just as applicable to a prince as a pauper, a Shakespeare as a man-hater. And yet, people cling to them like they hold some hidden gem of wisdom.
What is it about us that drives us to reach for these clich? proverbs in our moments of insecurity? And what pushes us to dump them on other people in their times of despair like they?re some metaphorical Band-aid? We know they don?t really apply without a stretch, and we know they probably won?t make anyone feel better. So why do we store them away and regurgitate them in the face of daunting trials?
Maybe we?re afraid; life is, after all, incredibly unpredictable. It can take you from cloud nine to six feet under in less than a minute. The agony is what creates the ecstasy, but that doesn?t make the roller-coaster any easier. Maybe those statements, so bipolar and vague, are comforting because our lives are bipolar and vague. Months and years of planning and scheming can all come to naught in seconds for completely unforeseen reasons. Or, just as quickly, opportunities can fall from the sky and make all our wildest dreams come true. But the majority of our time is spent somewhere between those two moments, uneasily shifting from idea to idea without any solid footholds. It?s insecure, it?s unpredictable, it?s paradoxical, it?s unclear ? just like those ridiculous statements.
Whether or not life is a journey or a race, it?s hard. And whether or not what happened was fair in love or war, it happened. But regardless of what derailed us or how down we are, that says nothing about where we could be.
We all cling to that hope, that things can always go up no matter how high or low you are right now. Maybe that?s what those statements communicate; they all address a conflict or struggle, and then amid their vague comparisons and generalizations, what they really say is, ?Where you are is tough, but that says nothing about where you will end up.?
Facing the music of that weekend was hard, and those paradoxical proverbs didn?t make it any easier. But I survived, as most of us do. And according to adage karma, that means I?m on my way up. Now it?s time to shift uneasily from thing to thing for a while. It?s not the most comfortable situation, and it?s not what I originally planned, but at least I?m on my feet and moving. And next time I?m stopped, I won?t have to stretch my mind trying to comprehend the paradoxical clich?s; I?ll take a moment, chalk it all up to experience and just laugh at the adages I?m supposed to find comfort in.
Abigail Shaha is an Issues & Ideas Editor at The Daily Universe.