Why do we construct pedestals and place people upon them so readily, sometimes without knowing if the life behind the smile, frozen only in time and photography, is even real?
I once cried over a photo in a tabloid newspaper of a pop star laughing on a beach in the sunshine with his new wife.
I don’t know why I cried. Perhaps because other people’s happiness, worn easily in expressions that seem so carefree – sometimes only serves to underline your own pain. Happy-ever-after seemed elusive then (it doesn’t anymore, I can happily report) and the sight of it gracing famous faces with its perfect presence made me feel more keenly the things I thought I had lost.
Barely six months later the veneer was cracked unceremoniously across the front pages of another tabloid paper. The truth appeared to be that the happy couple had little to laugh about together.
Who’s to say what’s real and what is not – I know broken hearts can mend and I hope the same is true of a popstar’s broken promise to his unknowing, smiling wife.
Making any pair a poster couple for anything is perilously dangerous ground. Falling from grace must hurt all the more without a soft place to land, under the shocked, frozen gaze of those who thought you were unbreakable.
“We are all falling apart…”
That’s what someone wrote in the comments of a blog I read last night, written by a woman whose writing I’ve admired for years, and whose life, while not without its heartache, I’ve admired too.
But her life is falling apart right now. Mine did once, too, so I nodded sagely and blinked back empathetic tears as I scrolled through comments from other people who’ve crossed waters not so very different, who can say from across the raging waves that it’s not so bad over there, that she can get through this to dry ground as they have done, and maybe even grow and bloom there beyond survival.
I’ve never lost a child but the pain of those who have is palpable. And pain is immeasurable. No-one can quantify the things that cause us pain, or grade heart-ache according to some sliding scale.
Life hurts, but it is also beautiful. We are all falling apart, but even in the falling apart there is redemption. Pain can bring us to our knees, but it can also make us stronger than we ever could have imagined before its coming… and that kind of alchemy is seriously under-rated.
I’m sorry for the pedestals I’ve forced beneath unwilling feet, but sorrier for those who lose things or feel pain while being held aloft under such an envious gaze.
Perfect lives do not exist, nor should they – isn’t ‘perfect’ the antithesis of ‘life’? So be careful who you envy and how your wishful gaze might embalm others in a place that makes failing harder than it has to be.
And if you’re the one who’s failing, falling, floundering, know this: The life that you rebuild from broken pieces might not be the one you had before, nor be worthy of the perfect pages of a glossy magazine. But it can be real, healed and whole, and that’s infinitely more valuable than the veneer.