I love looking at photographs.
It can be a Facebook album. An Instagram feed. A coffee table book created through Shutterfly, an old photo album, a scrapbook. I love them all. I love seeing smiles, family holidays, candid beer chugging contests, Halloween debauchery, wrinkled brand new baby faces and pet cuteness.
One of my favorite places to be is curled up on the couch, browsing through our Flicker account, which conveniently comes through my TV screen via Apple TV (if you don’t have Apple TV, do it – it rocks). And me and my littles giggle and reminisce around all the wonderful pictures that are chronicling our lives together.
But you know something? Photographs, although wonderful and provisional of a feeling, a memory preserved, a slice of time held precious forever, are only SNAPSHOTS of life.
They show smiles, milestones, first times. But sadly – and maybe thankfully – they don’t always show the layers of reality that exist within them.
For example, the poised family portrait, color coordinated and perfectly lit, doesn’t show the depression that darkens that family.
The birthday candles don’t illuminate the struggle with chronic pain.
The graduation ceremony doesn’t walk next to the struggle with a sick grandparent. A mounting debt. An anxious child. Or any of the other daily challenges that no one is immune to in this present day.
What I’m getting at here, is, quite simply, photographs, while lovely, are very surface level. And everyone, regardless of smiles, matching outfits, perfect vacations or cute pets, has their own type of struggle. No one can escape from stressful life events.
And you want to know why? Because that’s just life, and stress is a part of life. And that’s all there is to it.
Before I go any further, I have to say – the reason I am writing this isn’t to be negative, morbid or depressing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
This all came about recently through a conversation that I had with a person who is close to my family’s heart, and the conversation left me feeling quite hollow and distressed. So much so that quite some time has passed and here I am, still thinking about this conversation.
The conversation revolved around the topic of life, family, and being fortunate. We were discussing another mutual friend, whose family has been dealt more than their share of adversity in life. So much so that daily living can be a challenge for them, and stress overwhelms them regularly.
During this conversation, my husband and I were told, very pointedly, that “compared to [said friend with adversity], we (my husband and I) are living in the lap of luxury” and that “we have no idea what it’s like”.
First of all, that statement reminded me of this post, by fellow Mommy blogger Emily of “Mama Said” (watch out for swearing, and lots of it).
Then the statement made me feel super guilty.
I felt guilty for being blessed with healthy, thriving children. For being able to run a fairly smooth household. To have a job I love, and a husband that rocks.
Next, I felt sheepish. Why haven’t I helped my said friend more? Made her a few freezer meals, called her more, took her kids out for the day. Offered MYSELF to them.
And then I felt angry. And if you aren’t with me by now, go ahead and read the “Mama Said” post again so you can catch up.
Healthy children are a result, initially, of a sperm and egg amalgamating their respective DNA together. That’s out of my hands, honestly.
So how can I feel guilty for something that I initially had no control over?
Running a household and having a job I love….well, I try to balance my home life. And I used to have a job that I fucking HATED (pardon the French but I’m really trying to make a point here). But guess what? I quit that job before it quit me, and created my own reality with a great new job that I love.
Now do you see where I’m going here?
Despite having healthy kids, a job I love, a life that feels pretty great on most days, what my “life of luxury” appears to be on the outside still has its share of low days. Dark hours of sadness, such as the first 2 months of both of my children’s lives, when I had postpartum so badly that I don’t even remember them as babies during that time. It is a black hole that I will never get back.
Everyone has their struggles. We all want to throw in the towel sometimes. And here’s the kicker: Even though my struggles might seem like a blip in the radar compared to someone else’s struggles, it’s still a struggle – and it’s my personal, unique struggle. It still hurts me, causes pain, stress. But we, as do all humans, motor on – because that’s how we’re built.
But what SUCKS here is that someone else, who cares for us and we care for, feels the need to let us know regularly that we are SO LUCKY, with our lives in the lap of luxury.
And, just like Emily said – by you telling me that I’m living in the lap of luxury, you’re implying that I’m not grateful for this fact. That I’m not aware of my good fortune.
I interpret this as you believing that my life is perfect. That because I have healthy kids, a happy marriage and a bunch of other rad things going on, that I am imperviable to sadness. That I have never felt blackness, never seen the end of the rope, never wanted to walk away and not come back.
And that’s just wrong.
We spend a lot of time comparing, feeling guilty that we have more or less than the other. Why we didn’t help someone when they needed us. Why we, who are considered “lucky ones” don’t give more of ourselves to others. Why we compare our meager possessions against our neighbors riches.
Well I can guarantee you that at the end of the day, we’re all very much the same. We’re all people, we all have stress. We, on the surface, are just snapshots of what is really going on inside. So how about we stop comparing ourselves to others, feeling guilty becuase the dice we rolled landed on a different scheme than someone else. And channel some of that energy into a better place, like onto yourself and your family, and just be thankful for being yourself.
And most of all, be grateful for what you have. Even if someone else is constantly implying that you’re not. Because there’s always going to be someone else who is worse off than you, and always someone who is better.
The people who mind don’t matter. And the people who matter don’t mind.