When she was 22, Esther Williams saw something most people don’t get to see.
Ms. Williams, a 1940s Hollywood darling, was on set with costar William Powell, her senior of some 30 years. And she was about to smack him.
The script called for it. The director called for it. So, Ms. Williams, a former swimmer, put her broad shoulders into a whack across Mr. Powell’s handsome face.
“Then,” the actress recounted in her autobiography, “I watched in horror as one side of his face collapsed.”
The director called for makeup. And Ms. Williams watched as the makeup men reconstructed an elaborate network of rubber bands that stretched Mr. Powell’s skin back into the 1940s’ equivalent of a facelift.
A facelift people were never supposed to see.
There are a lot of rubber bands, duct tape, and tumult behind the scenes that give a movie polish.
Which is not so different from the way we are.
A whole lot of unseen effort goes into how we show ourselves in the world.
There are combs and colognes, dry cleaners and public speaking classes, mentors and evening workouts.
Yet, I can compare my behind the scenes holy mess to everyone else’s polished exterior.
And end up feeling like burnt toast. Lonely burnt toast.
On April 10th, Anne Lamott turned 61. Two days earlier, the Bird by Bird author posted a list of all that she knew up until April 8th. Here is Number 4:
“Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to their outsides.”
Comparing a messy inside with a polished outside puts nothing but distance between two people.
And makes us forget we’re on this road together. Each carrying our own holy mess.
There are a few privileged times when we are witness to someone’s mess coming to the surface. When the moment’s honesty cuts through how we show ourselves to how we are. To our tender, defenseless selves.
This is life at its largest. When our shared experience is laid bare on the table.
Keep these moments close at hand.
For when we can’t see the rubber bands.
For when our comparison’s smallness threatens to eclipse our commonality’s vastness.