Calamity Rainbow by
(190 Stories)

Prompted By Superstition

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To this day, no one has known this, but I am making it public now. Any time I see a rainbow, I quietly freak out. Yes, they are lovely, and others make a fuss over them while I try to control my anxiety.

Each time, shortly after I saw a rainbow, something bad would happen. Thus began what my husband and I called "the year of calamity and death."

It wasn’t always so. Until my mid-30s, I wasn’t superstitious about anything. Then, one February in the early 1990s, I was driving down the freeway after a rainstorm. The sun was barely out, and deep gray rain clouds covered much of the sky. An odd rainbow peeked out, looking like an evil eye. I remembered it because it was so unusual.

Within days of my seeing the rainbow, my then-husband’s mother was diagnosed with incurable liver cancer. At that time I didn’t think much about the rainbow, with everything else that was going on. But in the following months, I started noticing other rainbows, even at odd times of the year for California weather. Each time, shortly after I saw a rainbow, something bad would happen. Thus began what my husband and I called “the year of calamity and death.”

That year, it seemed almost weekly, people–often young people–friends, relatives, acquaintances–would become ill or die. Both our fathers had cancer (they recovered). My husband’s best man was killed in a boating accident. Husbands of close friends died. My professional mentor died, which changed the course of my career. We went to a birthday party for an older person who recovered from illness and later the same day a funeral for a young friend. It got to the point when we almost changed our outgoing phone message to say, “If you are calling to tell us someone has died, please don’t, just hang up now.”

Just as suddenly as the calamity began, it ended, and things went back to somewhat normal. The rainbows would reappear, though, from time to time, never bringing good news. Years later, I saw one shortly before my father was diagnosed with his final illness. And yes, this February, I saw a huge rainbow as the coronavirus was becoming a menace.

Having been involved in science, I know all the logical explanations for what is happening. Correlation is not causation. There is ascertainment bias. Certainly, I must be remembering the rainbows I saw before a bad event, not any others when nothing happened. My lizard brain is now programmed for alertness and fear from these memories. The explanations all make perfect sense, but no matter what I do, the superstition won’t go away. I still cringe every time I see a rainbow.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. That is a strange story indeed Marian, and sometimes it does seem one bad things follows another, 5 years ago we had 3 tragic deaths with a few months to deal with. And now this!

    Am trying to remember my mother’s words – This too shall come to pass’

  2. Suzy says:

    Marian, that’s amazing and terrible that all those bad things happened after you saw a rainbow. I don’t blame you for quietly freaking out now when you see one. It may not be scientific, but it makes perfect sense to me! I’m surprised you were even able to post your Featured Image, although I guess a picture of a rainbow shouldn’t be enough to trigger a bad event. (Oops, did I just say something that was tempting fate? I hope not!)

    As to Dana’s mother’s words, I wonder if she is remembering it wrong and it should be “This too shall pass” rather than “come to pass.”

    • Marian says:

      I had some trepidations, Suzy, about looking for rainbow images, but gritted my teeth. The black clouds in the one I chose remind me of that original, creepy-looking rainbow. Fortunately I’m not feeling as if the images do the same as a real rainbow, let’s hope!

  3. A fascinating story, Mare!! Science, ascertainment bias and mere coincidence aside, it gives me that feeling that there are things going on that we just can’t explain. But just because we can’t explain them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The “miracle” I experienced in Africa when my decades-long siege of panic attacks simply dissipated in a “vision” is one of those…I’d welcome a scientific explanation but lacking one chalk it up to one of those things.

    How about when you were in Hawaii, or did your time there precede this phenomenon? I can only hope you were able to enjoy the daily spectacle you must have witnessed there.

    And I’m sorry not sorry to sound glib, but maybe you could harness this for good. Could you envision a rainbow with you-know-who at the end of it please? Don’t be afraid…we’re here to support you!

    But sincerely, Mare, thank you for sharing your story here. I wish we could help you transform something frightening into something as beautiful as it is for the rest of us. XO

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Barb, most of my Hawaii time was before this phenomenon, but now I’m trying to stick my toe in the water. While I was looking at images for the story (admittedly difficult), I found that I could look at rainbow artwork much more easily than photos of real rainbows. Maybe I can do that periodically to desensitize my reaction, so I could be OK with looking at photos, then then real thing. Ultimately I could then associate rainbows with pleasant events!

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Marian, just a fascinating story. How horrible that you’ve had so many terrible things happen within your family and group of friends throughout the years that seem to be preceded by rainbows; no pot of gold at the end for any of those dear ones.

    This clearly has been traumatic for you. I applaud your efforts to even look for images and share this story. I echo the other comments when I say I hope you can find some relief from this going forward (or share Barb’s sentiment and channel it, perhaps?) We all need good news and happy associations at this point and hope you can find that.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    I love your logical approach, as a science-mined person, to this superstition. And yet there it is. Indeed, I was already thinking “correlation is not causation” and — voila! — there you say it.

    And what I find particularly intriguing is that which is implied here: to the extent that rainbows are viewed superstitiously at all, they are considered a good sign. I mean, think of Dorothy in Oz or Finian or even the Muppets. That they are bad omens for you is thus both sad and shocking.

    • Marian says:

      Maybe that’s why rainbows are so painful to me, John. They should be pleasant and it is so strange to have the opposite reaction. Thanks for adding to my understanding.

  6. Yikes. As you say, correlation is not causation, but cause and effect correlate, do they not? So maybe there is something to your rainbows.

  7. Oh, boy, Marian, do I understand what you say about the cycles of calamity. I’ve been through several waves in my life where death and destruction seemed to descend from the sky, as with your ominous rainbow. I’ve always struggled to find rational, i.e., scientific explanations for such horrendous pileups, but the stats and algorithms never seem to lead anywhere. You captured that syndrome powerfully here.

    • Marian says:

      Yes, I know other people have been through this, Charles, and I agree that as much as I look at the stats and algorithms for that past calamity, I can’t make sense of it. This fall six of our friends died within as many weeks, and I thought, “not again.” The only reason it didn’t seem as calamitous is that 30 years have passed since that major calamity and we all are older, so statistics does explain a part of it. To make it more interesting vis a vis my story, when I boot up my computer I normally see a lovely image from nature, or one with interesting architecture. Yesterday, a rainbow appeared.

  8. Laurie Levy says:

    Such an interesting story, Marian. It does seem like bad news comes in bunches, but I will be watchful for rainbows going forward. Even though my granddaughters obsessively like to draw them.

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