Metaphors allow us to understand our circumstances; by relating the circumstance to the natural world around us, we feel a greater kinship when, in all other aspects of our lives, we have tried to alienate ourselves and artificially separate our lives from the origins of our own existence. Similes, of course, always contain the comparative contrast that allows for a space between that which is compared and the reality of “what is”.
Thus, to say that “X is like Y” is quite different from saying that “X is Y”, even though we know in both instances that X is not Y, and that is precisely why we assert that there is a likeness between X and Y (because “likeness” is not the same as “sameness”) and also why we declare X to be Y even though they are not one and the same. Thus is there a difference between “Waves of misfortune” (a metaphor) and “Misfortune are like waves” (a simile).
The comparative preposition creates a once-removed parallelism (simile), whereas the metaphor makes no doubt of the mirror image of one with the other.
Medical conditions are more like metaphors (here, we are utilizing a simile to describe a metaphor); there is no space or removal between the situations being compared. To have a medical condition is not “like” something else; rather, it is the reality of one’s existence. It is through metaphors, however, as well as similes that we describe the symptoms to our doctors and others, to try and help them understand what it is like to be in constant pain, to be depressed, to be profoundly fatigued.
And for Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition such that the medical condition necessitates preparing an effective Federal Disability Retirement application, to be submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, it must be understood that the Federal Disability Retirement “package” is a paper presentation to OPM, and thus must by necessity use both metaphors and similes in order to persuade OPM of having met the legal criteria of a FERS Disability Retirement application.
The “waves of misfortune” must be described persuasively, lest they become a metaphor for failure in preparing, formulating and filing an effective Federal Disability Retirement application that results in a denial as opposed to an approval.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire