Rainbows

My mother spent five days in the hospital in the summer of 2019 after her eventually fatal stroke. I pretty much lived there with her while friends took care of my daughter.

The room had a big window that overlooked a parking lot and some green space. It wasn’t a beautiful view necessarily, but it was my connection to the outside world during that time hibernating in the hospital.

Every day, it being summer in Florida, there were storms, which is typical. Atypically, there was also a rainbow — every day. Each day, the beautiful colors would streak across the sky, and I would look out, soaking in the beauty, thinking about the promises of rainbows as Mom lay in the hospital bed behind me.

Being a lifelong The Wizard of Oz fan, I also would sing “Over the Rainbow.” Dorothy’s most famous song comes at the beginning of the movie when the world is black and white, no one is paying her much attention, and she’s worried over her dog Toto.

This explains the song’s opening line: “When all the world is a hopeless jumble and the raindrops tumble all around, Heaven opens a magic lane.”

The rainbow’s promise is that “skies are blue, and dreams that you dare to dream really do come true;” “troubles melt like lemon drops.”

No wonder Dorothy thinks of the rainbow as a magical lane to heaven.

Dorothy’s adventures lead her to a place of bright rainbow colors, but it’s no heaven with its witches, flying monkeys, and a fake wizard who sets her to a near-impossible, dangerous challenge.

The film ends with the lesson that the promise is not over the rainbow but rather that “there’s no place like home.”

There’s a different lesson to be had from rainbows too, which I was reminded of as we drove the other morning and saw a stunning one.

A rainbow exists because of the reflection, refraction, and dispersal of light in water droplets that result in visible colors in an arc in a section of the sky opposite the sun. The rainbow depends on specific weather conditions to manifest, and, since those weather conditions will shift, rainbows are temporary sights of beauty.

Therefore, rainbows are perfect examples of the Buddhist idea of impermanence and manifestation. They demonstrate how specific conditions come together to bring us a brief moment of beauty that will pass.

They are not a promise, as Dorothy discovers, of a removal of suffering.

Rather, the rainbow reminds us that everything is temporary, that if we are suffering and grieving, as I was for my mom in that hospital room, the suffering will not last forever.

Home can include neglect, trauma, cruelty, and even tornadoes, but our true home — that quiet space within that we can cultivate through mindfulness — holds within it the promise of the rainbow.

There is beauty. It will pass. It will come again.

We must notice beauty while we can, for there is suffering.

Suffering will pass. It will come again.

But our true home of a peaceful heart can sustain us throughout.

As I grieve yet again, I’m grateful for the reminder of another rainbow.

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Kathryn Duncan

Kathryn Duncan

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Kathryn Duncan is an English professor and author of the book Jane Austen and the Buddha: Teachers of Enlightenment.