Tackling myths & clichés: When Life gives you lemons, make lemonade

First of all, life doesn’t give you lemons.

But since we’re talking about them, you know who has a lot of lemons? The Italians. And they’re some of the warmest, happiest people out there. Go to Sorrento in Italy and tell me that you do not love all of the lemony things. I dare you. Lemon scented soap. Lemon chicken. Lemon liqueur. Lemonade. Lemon candies. Lemon paintings and tables and glasswork. Lemon towels and pottery. Whole shops full of lemons and lemon-inspired things.

Lemons are not a bad thing. But the pain of life, unfortunately, is not like lemons at all. Lemons, if eaten plain, are pretty sour, but to be honest, they still taste pretty good in the realm of things.

And that’s the reality — you can make lemonade out of lemons because they taste pretty good to start with.

You know what life gives you that you can’t make lemonade out of? Crap.

Ever heard that saying, “You can’t polish a turd?” It’s true (I’d imagine). You can’t. You also can’t make lemonade out of it.

You can’t make lemonade out of your life falling apart.
You can’t make lemonade out of your loved ones dying.
You can’t make lemonade out of betrayal.
You can’t make lemonade out of a broken heart.
You can’t make lemonade out of losing everything.
You can’t make lemonade out of abuse.
You can’t make lemonade out of poverty.
You can’t make lemonade out of a fatal diagnosis.

You just can’t. You can’t make lemonade out of those hard, painful, gut-wrenching things in life.
Nor should anyone persuade you to try.

It’s ok to let the bad things be bad.
It’s ok to let the painful things be painful.
Don’t be persuaded to try to act like the silver lining is all that matters. Because your pain, your ugly, horrible plot turns of your life that you’ve had to endure — those matter. Suffering matters.

Redemption matters, too. But your suffering matters in its own right, even before you may see any good come from it.  If you’re experiencing pain or suffering right now, I am so sorry. You matter. And this season of life may not last forever, but I am sorry you are in it right now.

Beauty does come from pain. (It exists apart from pain, too.) But it’s not that your pain has to be beautiful. It’s not that you have to use lemons to make lemonade. You don’t have to transform your grief into a sweet summery treat overnight.

The reality is that when the hard pain of life comes, and you endure, beauty and life can spring forth again. Your story doesn’t have to end in pain. But you do not have to sugar-coat those painful times. It’s ok to not be ok.

It’s ok to not be the ever-singing optimist lemonade-maker.

And there’s one more thing. While those hard pieces of life are more like crap than they are like lemons… crap is good fertilizer. You can’t make lemonade out of the crap of pain. But as you journey through these hard pieces of life — as you grieve and are honest about the fact that this feels like something you never wanted to go through — your life is being fertilized. You don’t have to make lemonade. Just journeying through your pain will fertilize your life for potential beauty to bloom forth in the future.

origin_5807957068photo credit: DanieleCivello via photopin cc

So in your own life and in the lives of those around you, let the hard parts of life be just what they are. Hard. Painful. Heart-breaking. Life-altering. I-wish-this-never-happened saddening. I-want-to-punch-a-hole-in-this-wall maddening. I-just-don’t-think-I-can-take-another-day-of-this-reality exhausting.

There is hope for healing and new life in the future. But in the midst of fresh pain, that’s hardly a refreshing drink of consolation. And that’s OK to admit.

Later, when you have grieved, when you have slept, when you have plodded forth for what felt like too long and you come into a new season of life where you’re ready to rebuild, re-dream, and to come alive again, you can plant a lemon tree later in that fertile ground of your life and make lemonade if you really want to.

Or just ignore the rules and plant something sweet like oranges or berries to begin with.

Revised saying:
I’m sorry life is so painful and crappy right now. I’ll sit here with you in the stench of heart-break and life-ache. And I’ll be here still when you want to plant something new. But no rush. Take the time you need.

It’s not as catchy, I know. I’m OK with that.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.