We’re all acting a part in this show called “Life”
Twenty-year-old Shira was considering becoming a lawyer. Her father, a long-practicing criminal lawyer, invited her to come to court one day to see the career in action. Shira gladly accepted the offer.
After spending a few hours watching the proceedings, Shira met her father for lunch. “Well,” her dad asked, “what do you think? Is this the career for you?”
He was stunned by her reply. Shira didn’t even answer her father’s question. Instead she replied, “Dad, I saw how you were in charge of the courtroom, how confident and knowledgeable you appeared, how everyone’s eyes were glued to you. You were really impressive! No one would have ever guessed the problems you had!”
To understand Shira’s remarks, let’s backtrack 18 months. At that point in time, Shira’s mom had asked Dad to leave the home and get the help he needed to get his alcohol addiction in check. While the kids were vaguely aware that their father drank too much, they hadn’t realized how much the problem had spiraled, and they were devastated and traumatized.
Shira in particular was furious with her father for having let his family down, as she perceived it. She told no one about it.
Fortunately, Dad did what he needed to do to make things right. After about six months, Mom welcomed him home again — he was on a clear path of healing. He was remorseful, sober, and serious about his recovery, and he continued on this path, slowly earning back his family’s trust.
Now, seeing her father in court, Shira’s first thoughts were routed to her traumatic experience. Even though her father had come home and family life resumed as normal, she saw her father differently. He was a man “with a story,” a man “with a secret.” To Shira, her father was damaged. The big surprise for her that day was that no one could possibly tell just by looking at him.
Shira’s dad may have had a drinking problem, but he was a wise man. He understood that his daughter had felt ashamed and isolated by his condition. He realized his children must have felt that their father was defective and their family was unique in its troubles. He wanted her to have a healthier, more accurate view of reality and so he told her the following:
“You’re right. No one could have known what problems I’ve dealt with in my life. But you know, just because I’m doing my job well, doesn’t mean I haven’t had problems. And this is true for everyone in that courtroom.
“The judge is doing a good job of being a judge but he’s a human being so he’s also been dealing with problems in his personal life. The law clerk is doing a fine job but she has her struggles, too. The police officers in their official uniforms look strong today, but all of them are fighting their own demons.
“In fact, every person in that room — no matter how successful or unsuccessful they are at their job — is dealing with personal problems. We’re all human and therefore we’re all struggling.”
Dad then went on to enumerate the sorts of things that people deal with, the “secrets” they have about their mental health, their family lives, and other aspects of their personal lives. At first, Shira didn’t believe what her father was saying because none of her friends had these kinds of problems. But then Dad pointed out that none of those friends thought Shira had been dealing with any problems either. She then realized that everyone’s silence contributes to the false idea that others have more perfect lives. And although she wasn’t happy to realize that others were also suffering, she was finally freed from the burden of shame.
Knowing with certainty that everyone struggles can be helpful. The particular flavor of difficulty that a family member, friend, or neighbor experiences matters less than simply knowing that we haven’t been singled out for suffering.
Moreover, knowing that suffering doesn’t obliterate our persona, that we can still live full and active lives, have friendships and love and success of all kinds, gives us strength and hope.
Struggling is only part of what we do (albeit an important part for our growth). We and our loved ones — and everyone else — are whole human beings, even with our broken parts.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 652)