My last birthday was a total bust. My gift was fever, shakes, pukes, body aches and diarrhea at 30,000 feet in the air on a transatlantic flight from hell. Barfing into an airplane toilet takes “gross” to a whole new level…
The next three days were a blur where reality and dreams blended like a thick cloud hovering over my sweaty sheets. I felt incredibly sorry for myself and my poor family could do nothing right and it didn’t seem like they were doing enough to save my life (which, to me, was clearly hanging in the balance…)
My sweet daughter came up with a brilliant idea to try and make amends: she bought our family tickets to a Ben Rector concert hoping to redeem the birthday that had gone down the toilet (pun intended).
After waiting in line for two hours at the concert venue, we were finally able to race to our “spots” on the floor and landed a coveted position in the “second row” (if there IS such a thing as rows in a mosh-pit). This was a standing-up kind of concert where old people like me should have known better and paid the extra hundred bucks for a seat. But I wanted to be cool like my daughters and all the other millennials so I insisted I’d have no problem standing up for 7 hours straight and wouldn’t be bothered in the least to have multiple 20-year old drunk guys rubbing up against me.
Rather than bury my head in my phone while we waited (like the millennials), I chose to people watch. I got an interesting little life lesson from the two girls in front of us. After all, we were so close I could have licked their necks if I’d wanted to. So you can’t really call it eavesdropping, I just wasn’t closing my ears.
The girls began their wait by taking a selfie. I get it. That’s what we all do in these GRAND situations – we let the world know how GRAND our life is. We did it, too. Of course I wanted all my middle-aged friends to see how cool I was – at a Ben Rector concert – standing-freakin’-up –surrounded by drunk millennials!!!
But the two girls encroaching my personal space didn’t take just ONE selfie, they took at least 50. No joke. They took one from every angle, then switched p, then fixed their hair and took some more, then took their cool flannel shirts off and tied them around their waists and took some more.
What happened next is the part I’ll never forget: the editing.
With their new phones and latest apps, they whitened their teeth, trimmed their inner-thighs and lightened their hair. They brightened the yellow in their shirts and softened the grey. They smoothed down the fly-aways in their hair and made their skin look silky. One said their teeth looked unnaturally white, so they dialed that back a little. Then they switched it back again. On and on and on this went – perfecting perfection. Believe me – I had nothing else to do but watch the two of them as I waited for my man, Ben.
And it all made me long for the days when we put ACTUAL FILM in our cameras and simply took ONE PICTURE in a grand situation and then prayed that when we brought the film to the local Walgreens to be developed we wouldn’t all have our heads cut off or red-devil eyes.
I think by now everyone knows that social media can’t be trusted. It’s actually quite a lie, isn’t it? The carefully curated images and the subtly blissful-nuanced stories we share on social media – simply because we can edit – are not the true us. When we only post a picture that took us 50 tries to get a “good one” and only post the content that makes us look thin, rich, fun, smart, courageous, exploring, and ridiculously busy, then we’re not sharing the REAL us.
You know it. I know it.
But we all keep doing it anyway. It’s a serious cultural problem and it’s filling up my psych hospital with all kinds of people feeling “less-than” and suicidal.
And I don’t think anyone really knows what to do about it.
If an old school film-camera took a snap-shot of our lives I’m betting it would look more like a morning fight with the spouse over the credit card bill, a child getting a detention for forgetting her French horn for the twelfth time, sitting with a loved one receiving chemo at the cancer center, a broken washing machine during a season with three kids in sports, a friend who’s drifting away, family feuds over where your mother with dementia should live, or burning dinner for the fifth night in a row.
So why don’t we see or hear more of these stories?
When we edit every part of our lives to be lovely and perfect – even if it is primarily to impress others – it feels like real life is no longer allowed to exist. Those of us stuck in “real life” soon feel like failures.
I’m not suggesting bearing our souls on social media is going to fix this, but I do believe that more often than not, it IS okay to share your burdens with a few TRUSTED souls. Not only is it okay, I believe it’s necessary. Maybe we NEED to hear that our kids aren’t the only ones who are bullied. Maybe I NEED to see your chunky inner thighs. Maybe you NEED to see that I burn dinner almost every night.
Paul and I once left a church we loved dearly because it felt like we were the only ones in the whole congregation who messed up the gift of sex. We felt so isolated in our pain. We had confessed and been forgiven by both God and each other, but we never dared to share our story at church – it just seemed like no one there could have possibly understood. They all seemed so perfect. No one ever talked about issues or problems at that church, so our (wrong) assumption was they didn’t have any.
Maybe, as much as anything, we need to feel safe to share when we’ve screwed up. Maybe, if we knew our messes would be met with the knowing nod of our friends and neighbors saying to us, “Yes, my dear, I hear you and I see you. And just like God, I forgive you, too. Let it go and let me share with you my own broken story, my dear…” maybe then we’d be more likely to share.
Because in real life, you don’t get to edit.
In real life, you only get one take.