“My life is like a lemon drop. I’m suckin’ on the bitter to get to the sweet part”—these lyrics from the Pistol Annies’ song “Lemon Drop” have always resonated with me. Cute and humorous on the surface, they hold a deeper truth.
Their simplest message is a certain optimism contained in lines like “I know there are better days ahead.” But that’s only the candy coating on this layered lyric.
Notice that “suckin’ on the bitter” is necessary to get to the sweet part. You can’t skip over the bitter part and go straight to the sweet. If you could cleave the lemon drop with a hammer and chisel to reveal the sweet and discard the bitter, you would lose something in the process.
Somehow the bitter and the sweet go together. In my experience of lemon drops, the bitter and sweet come in waves. There is not simply a bitter shell encasing a sweet center. Bitter gives way to sweet for a while, but then it re-surges when you least expect it. Life is the same. As Rainer Maria Rilke says, “No feeling is final”—sweet and bitter dance in and out of life.
Even now, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are sucking on the bitterness of death, fear, and uncertainty, but sweet spots keep asserting themselves to counter the bitter: human kindness, family time, creativity, rest, and contemplation of nature.