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*At 15, I took my first trip on a jet plane from Oklahoma City to spend the summer with family in Los Angeles. “Nonstop!” I made sure to inform friends.

This being my first flight, I was excited to no end. But I was nervous, too, for as Daddy drove me to Will Rogers International, suddenly, the skies went gray. On the plane, I buckled the belt of my window seat just as we were hit with the kind of sudden downpour for which Oklahoma is renown during humid Summer months.

I clenched my teeth as the aircraft made its ascent into the clouds, forgetting to continue chewing the stick of Juicy Fruit relatives advised would keep my ears from popping.

In minutes, the plane had leveled off and, remarkably, the sun was shining. I mumbled my fragile relief that the rain stopped. “Oh, it’s still raining,” said the gentleman sitting next to me. “We just went above it.”

Above it?

“Yes. The rain is coming from the clouds…we’re flying above the clouds. It’s not raining up here. When we’re on the ground, clouds may block the sun, but the sun itself never stops shining, young man.”
Dumbfounded, it never occurred to me that an airplane could escape stormy weather simply by flying above it. Moreover, I had no idea that overcast days simply meant clouds blocked the sun but that the sun never goes anywhere.

For me, as an adult that maiden voyage would become a metaphor for getting through life’s turbulence. I know. Corny. But it’s true.
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Fact: on our worst days, we are blessed. Sometimes we’re all too willing to be the life of our private pity party. However, the clouds, so to speak, will pass. In the meantime, we simply have to find the sun.

That process begins with gratitude. When something goes wrong—-when you’re let go from your much needed job; when you are involved in a road mishap; when a romantic relationship or friendship comes to an unkind end; when you don’t get that raise you earned and were counting on; when you lose some irreplaceable article of sentimental value; when from your doctor you receive a dreadful diagnosis; when you lose a loved one or are faced with personal loss that seems impossible to overcome—-this is the moment, as difficult as it may be, to remind yourself of all that is good and positive in your life. It is from this powerful platform of gratefulness that you can conquer whatever problem you’ve been presented.

To get an idea of what this process looks and sounds like, turn to news coverage of the assorted victims of hurricanes Irma and Harvey and survivors of the recent Mexico City earthquake.

See and hear tearful, emotional interviews of people whose good ol’ days were just weeks ago, before daily life became a seemingly unassailable struggle.

Standing there with only the clothes on their backs, over and again you hear the people talk about how things could have been worse—-how they or their families could have been injured or killed, as others have.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do now,” they say through tears. “The important thing is that we are alive.”

How, you ask, can they stand there with nearly nothing and say this? The answer to that question is that these people have abruptly and with little mercy (re)discovered the true meaning of life. Suddenly, they have no doubt about what is important.

You might say, “Well, my heart goes out to them, but MY reality is my reality; my problems aren’t that desperate but they’re real.” Yes, they are. But how these people have found the sun—–through gratitude for what they have now and by honoring the life accomplishments of their past—is a gift that you, too, need to unwrap.

I’m not saying this is easy to do. I’m only saying that it works. And the more I take this approach to battling life’s challenges, the easier it is to do.

When you think about it, it’s pretty incredible that something as light and airy as clouds can block out something as mighty and everlasting as the sun.

Likewise, it’s pretty amazing that you can let a bad situation allow you to forget how you got this far. Clouds pass. Until they do, you gotta find the Sun. It’s always there.

Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]