At a formal function last week, I sat next to an old acquaintance who I have not spoken to for some years.
“Things appear to be taking off for you,” he said.
“Are they?” I asked.
“It sure looks like it on Facebook.”
This brief conversation made me think about what I project into the world.
In the last few months I have announced signing a book contract. I have posted pictures of Nicole in a beautiful dress at her Matric Farewell. There’s a happy little video made in honour of her 18th birthday, showing her growing up from a chubby baby, to a cute toddler in pink and on to blossoming womanhood, lots of smiles all around. I sometimes show-case Ashlyn’s art-work and share the funny, quirky things she says. Holiday photos abound (I admit, in this area we do ‘take off’ fairly often). Witty exchanges on my FB page give the impression that I move in fabulously suave circles.
A dear, wise friend of mine speaks often of the ‘shadow and shine’ of life. What my acquaintance saw on the Facebook feed are the shiny parts of my life. They’re true and wonderful, but they’re not the whole story. There are shadows in my life too. This year they have felt darker than before and occasionally threaten to pull me deep into the shade, away from the warm sunlight.
One of the shadows we’ve been dealing with as a family is illness. My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer earlier this year and the treatment has put him under a lot of strain. He’s also dealing with large, disruptive changes at work. Nicole’s final school year, learning to drive and applying to a selection course at University, have also added layers of stress, as has Ashlyn’s resurfacing anxiety. This collective pressure has jarred into our marriage and family-life, exposing hairline cracks I didn’t know existed.
Why don’t I put all this on Facebook to give a more balanced view of my life? Am I deliberately misleading, trying to project an image of perfection that is not true?
No, not at all. I just do not want to languish in the shadows. I know they are there and I know even bigger ones may loom around the next corner. The shadows merely remind me how lovely the sunlight is, and that is what I want to enjoy and celebrate.
I draw some insights from this that I hope will bless you in some way.
- Remember that every person’s life has both shadow and shine. If all you see is the shine, know that it’s not the full picture. Trevor Hudson says ‘every person sits next to their own pool of tears’. Knowing this helps me be gentle with people, whether they choose to share some of their tears with me or not.
- Let’s not begrudge each other’s joys, but rather celebrate them, knowing that the ‘shine’ they show us is only the lovely part of a far more complex story.
- It makes us vulnerable to share the shadow parts of our lives. Even now I have the urge to delete the paragraph opening up our struggles to the world. Yet, sometimes there is a place and a need for it, a sharing of our hearts that reminds us all that our journeys are—at times—long, tiring, heart-sore ones, as much as they are beautiful.
- If you’ve stood in the shade too long, take a tentative step into the sunlight. The shine is there, I promise, it may just require a different way of looking:
“There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.” (Marilynne Robinson)
Image: “Gothic Abbey Kite” by Dr Joseph Valks from freedigitalphotos.net