Once upon a time, way back before I could be seen found donning my best Under Armour women’s gear and embracing the shake or pedaling to the beat of the music at any Pure Barre, Zengo, or Soul CycleÂ studio, my chosen exercise method, which admittedly was weak at best for someone in her 30’s (then again, I hadn’t yet been introduced to such luxuries as boutique studio workouts), was walking. Before you envision me in some clownish nylon track suit fit for an octogenarian swishing through malls during off hours, please stop. I was walking OUTDOORS. I promise you. And the importance of these sacred 30-60 minute moments to myself were three-fold.
First, it forced me to depart from my “fingers flying over the MacBook keys/ever spreading rear end/ever stiffening back, neck, and shoulders/bleary-eyed/zero circulation” position. A few times a week during the mid-afternoon, I would stop the typing, rub my crusty eyes, and slowly straighten my legs, becoming upright, creaking and moaning as my knees flexed, the fluid flowing around my fleshy knee caps. I’d stretch my back, roar a yawn that would rival any 70 year old man’s and head to my drawers and closet, digging out the unattractive outfit of the day (3/4 leggings, sports bra, some ratty tee shirt and gasp! my sneakers, which usually were either brand spanking new and unused or as ratty as my top). Yes, I’d be wearing this getup in public. Sometimes I wondered if I’d brushed my teeth. Hair was a given: nope. Not at all. A baseball cap was the glorious final touch and I was out the door. I was about to exercise.
More than exercise, I was venturing out to explore the neighborhoods of Rosslyn, Courthouse, and Clarendon. These north Arlington groupings at first glance, are made up of two long winding boulevards, Wilson and Clarendon, with crossing roads, a plethora of businesses, both mom and pop and big box, and the Metro system, which back then was Orange line only. Not much to explore unless I had my trusty credit card with me and was on a shopping spree, right? Wrong. What I most appreciated then and even today, are the back neighborhoods and what they have to offer to someone like me, who was and is still a single, high-rise resident.
The second reason my walks through the quiet long tree-lined blocks were good for me was what they did for my brain (not to mention giving my strained eyeballs a reprieve). These were moments when I could think through my day-to-day stress, professional or otherwise, and of course any shitty relationship or dating issue(s). I made sure I had a pocket full of Kleenex just in case tears would come knocking on my eyeballs. (Luckily I only drove myself to that emotional brink a few times, telling any curious passerby that it was “allergies!”) These self-guided neighborhood tours allowed me to “get inside my head” and work through problems, consider solutions and often times, come to solid conclusions. The oxygen I breathed in deeply helped my muscles and awaken myÂ noggin.
And the last but definitely not least motivation behind making these little adventures happen,Â is what brings me to this title. My mini-local journeys, while deeply internal, simultaneously sparked my imagination and curiosity simply because of my surroundings. The routes I wandered were contiguous displays of idyllic picture perfect settings. I marveled at the wonders of each. I marveled at the wonders of itÂ all.
Perfect house after perfect house, immaculate yard after immaculate yard, exquisite landscaping after exquisite landscaping, each plot different than the previous, seemed to beckon me as I passed by. I was a voyeur in a poor-man’s work out ensemble – an outsider looking in to these worlds of impeccable living.Â Mostly, though, I wondered about the people, the families who were privileged to call the real estate their “home.”
Who in the world, who indeed, were these people who filled these homes? They, I thought to myself, are theÂ normal ones. The regular all-American dream, living a picture perfect life. Mom, dad, children, dog, cat. Well-educated, well-coifed, well-dressed, well-behaved, well on their way to church, school, soccer, ballet, play dates, driving lessons, Whole Foods and Disney World. I’d create a fantasy life for every home during my walks: Look at theÂ tricycle abandoned in the driveway, probably left there because little Susie had been called in by mommy or the nanny, to lunch on her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple slices, and glass of milk. Afterward, it was nap time. The cycle would be reunited with Susie post-nap, ridden all afternoon with her playmates until Daddy came home from a long day in the office, ready for a cocktail and a delicious homemade meal together at the dinner table. Yes, these are normal people leading picture perfect lives. That’s what normal people do everyday, I would nod with satisfaction, moving along in my stroll.
Fast forward to today when I spend my workouts in studios and in no way shape or form am I wearing a ratty tee-shirt and my teeth and hair are always brushed. I walk the same neighborhoods, though my mission is focused on getting my hyper 10-month old puppy to the dog park. But, after the sun sets and Christmas lights twinkle, brightening the streets, porches and tree lines, I love to venture back out (with my puppy of course). I’ve found that often I can actually see into the homes at night because of the picture windows which frame their world. Home from work, school, errands, soccer practice, and day time life, these normal people gather together to do normal family things. I’ve witnessed families sitting down to dinner together at the table, parents cooking in the kitchen, and children flipping through channels on a huge flat screen. These large rectangular picture windows frame the film of a perfect existence lived by normal, happy families. I get wistful, sometimes blue after these walks, because I’m not a part of this world. I wonder if I ever will be.
I do remember being a part of a “picture perfect” family growing up. We lived in several cities and in each, our houses too had picture windows outlining our living rooms, our dining rooms, graciously presenting our family time, our dinners at the table, and our seasonal holiday decor. Our driveways were slick and weedless, our lawns green and mowed, our trees and bushes trimmed and blooming. But as perfect as these windows and yards and the whole scene might look to a “me” who peered in from the sidewalk, life was less than perfect. Because life is just that. My working parents did their best and tried so hard to ensure a safe, fulfilling and healthy life for their four children. They sacrificed dearly for us. But as kids/siblings do, we fought, we yelled “I hate you!”, we slammed doors, we broke things, we broke bones, we locked ourselves in our rooms, we cried about boys and girls who gave us trouble at school (or teachers), who ruined our life as we knew it because they broke our hearts. With six humans – two adults and four children- and sometimes a dog, there is no way, life was perfect. Because life is freaking hard.
In today’s world of omnipresent social media that forces our eyeballs to see photos, videos, good news stories, and humble brags minute-by-minute, I suppose that this serves as the online frame, the stage, the metaphorical “picture window” for us to peer into others’ perfect lives. Well, at least what is carefully curated, then chosen as worthy to share with the rest of us. I’m just as guilty of this, hell, I’ve created an entire career based on social networking.
It’s easy to believe that what we see is what we get online. Hooray for my kids! My husband! My wife! My family! My newborn! My career! My pets! My new gi-normous home! My brand new expensive car! My world tour vacation! My case I won! My book! My article! My fashion shoot! My new hair style! My anniversary! My birthday! My party with the Bidens! My party with POTUS! My FedEx Field suite with professional athletes and CEO’s! My reality show! My hit on TV! My jumping out of a plane! My flying a plane! My selfie with every celebrity ever! My #ThrowbackThursday! My party I was invited to but you weren’t! My everything I did but you didn’t! My perfect world!
So why then, are we so completely shocked when we learn of a devastating divorce, a tragic suicide, or a life that is exactly the opposite of what we hold to be true on Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter, Tumblr, or blogs? Because, it’s not all real life. It’s a piece of the real life pie. Just a slice. Just a taste. A carefully cut and placed on the plate piece of pie that is allowed to be shared.
This post is merely a thoughtful reminder to make time, face-to-face or even on the phone, with friends and family this holiday season, many of whom you see as blasting their “perfect and fabulous” good life all over social media, distributing their picture window scene as unblemished, one that is meant to make us green with envy, perhaps even sad about our own flawed, stressful, inferior life. Because what you see is not always what’s going on with that person, in fact often it’s quite the opposite. Don’t think that for one moment, their lives are simply “perfect.” As Christmas and New Year’s draw near, many people become extremely depressed on top of being stressed. This is when the social media “plethora of in-your-face perfect lives” may take its toll. I hope that you will reach out to those who might be having a difficult time because of losing a loved one, who might be out of a job, going through a huge personal or professional challenge, or is just a human with everyday problems. Asking questions, listening, sharing stories of you own hardship, just plain taking a moment of your own life to spend with someone who needs you (and who might not have even asked) could mean the world to him or her.
Because real life, my friends, is freaking hard. And we only have each other in real life, to count on.