Saturday, June 16, 2018


Rex Harrison June 2018

Kermit the Frog sings “Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?”.

It’s hardly surprising when you think about it. We are always drawn to things of beauty. We like to capture them in images, in words, in music so we can enjoy them whenever the mood takes us. But rainbows are ephemeral. They appear when conditions are right, and then are gone. So we keep singing about them to bring them to mind until we can see them again.

Rainbows are like all living things in some ways. They need both water and light if they are to appear. They need just the right amount of rain, and just the right amount of sunlight. A day of heavy rain has clouds that block out the sun and no rainbows. Too many days and living things become pale and wan. A day with no rain has no rainbows. Too many days and living things become parched.

Perhaps this is why they have become such welcome symbols in many cultures. Their appearance means there is both water and light in the world. Their appearance at the end of a storm gives hope the world will go on. And even though they fade, we know they will appear again when conditions are right.

Surprisingly enough, there are a few cultures where rainbows have darker overtones. In parts of Amazonia rainbows are seen as portents of misfortune, for example miscarriages and skin problems. Mouths are closed on sighting a rainbow to avoid disease. Perhaps the ephemeral nature of rainbows is taken as warning of the ephemeral nature of life.

A more modern usage is rainbows as a symbol of diversity, of acceptance of diversity. Although the colours are distinct, the rainbow as an entity is one. Archbishop Desmond Tutu referred to post-apartheid South Africa as a rainbow nation. The rainbow has been used to recognise diversity of gender identity.

But for most of us the rainbow is a symbol of hope for the future. I’ll leave the last word to Kermit the Frog:

Someday we'll find it
The rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me

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