Thursday, Jun 20, 2024





We’ve all been there. Going through a batch of pictures, we come across one that caught us unposed, unaware. Unready to show ourselves to the world. Someone pressed the shutter and voila! The image was caught. An image that we’d rather not have recorded for posterity.

In the old days, you could take those photos and rip them up. These days, it’s even easier: the push of a button deletes any image that is not to our liking. All of those less-than-perfect moments can be erased from the record, leaving behind only the best of ourselves to remember and to be remembered by. A photographic history which, like the smiles of those featured in the pictures, is perfectly crafted and expertly framed.

All of which is fine when it comes to assembling a photo album. But what about the way we show ourselves in real life? The beautifully posed images represent only half the picture. They are like the sparkling white clothes you put on your kids just before you take them out for a Shabbos walk, even though they were dressed in cholent-spattered casuals moments before.

If life is a series of snapshots, we’d prefer to consign a great portion of them to the great trash bin of history… even though, ironically, the discarded shots just may represent a more vivid picture of what our lives are really like.

Sometimes we don’t get to choose how a picture will look. I remember the day, not long after my move back to America after living for years in Eretz Yisrael, when I received an unexpected visit from a pair of former colleagues. While I was thrilled to see them, I was less than thrilled with the timing of their visit.

While I don’t recall if it was actually the pre-dinner hour, I do recall that it certainly felt that way. We were renting an apartment that was too small for us while we searched for a house to buy. When my visitors walked in, the place seemed to be exploding with energetic kids, bouncing off the walls and wreaking havoc with whatever modest décor we’d managed to pull together for this interim residence. Seeing my former colleagues in the midst of all the chaos, I felt harried, hassled, and embarrassed. I don’t know what they’d been expecting, but that cramped, noisy situation was probably not it. And it certainly wasn’t what I would have hoped to show them.

Why, oh, why couldn’t they have come a couple of months later, when we were living in our beautiful new home with our beautiful new furniture, and enough space for everyone and everything? Why did the picture of me and my family that they took away with them that day have to be one I wished I could delete?

Trivial, you might say. And you’d be right. I wished my friends could have seen me in a more flattering setting, but that didn’t happen. They were polite, I was a bit mortified, the visit passed, and that was that. A slight ruffling of the ego feathers, nothing more.

Much more significant are the moments we wish we could erase which reflect something flawed or deficient where it really counts. The pictures we’d like to delete because they show us in a negative light in ways that matter. Or even the ones that simply reveal a weakness we’d rather not share.

I’m talking about snapshots of the people we are when we’re not showing a brave front to the world.



Here’s a philosophical question for you: suppose you want to see who a person really is. Do you think he should be judged by the way he functions when he’s at his best… or when he’s caught off-balance and momentarily at his worst?

I suppose it depends on what you’re judging. If you want to see how Individual X presents himself to the world, then by all means have a look at him after he’s had a chance to prepare himself for the presentation. Yet, perhaps seeing a person specifically when he’s struggling to cope gives us a more accurate view?

In this age of photoshopping, image editing and pressing the delete button, we have superficial perfection at our fingertips. Social media waves a frantic hand in the air, crying, “Look at me! See how wonderful I am!” But is that the most accurate view of who the individual actually is? What about the wealth of imperfection he’s been called upon to contend with in his life?

We don’t wear a sign around our necks proclaiming the specific middah we’re trying hard to work on. We don’t advertise our traumas, our fears, our secret failings or even our secret triumphs. Those things are personal. Private. They’re the kind of things that might appear in women’s magazines, or in the pages of an evocative novel. A conversation with a close friend may unearth that rich inner layer. A photograph does not.

The sight of someone who’s momentarily lost her equilibrium is far more illuminating than a brilliant white smile in a posed picture. The latter will show you the person she wants you to see. The former will reveal a bit of the real person she may be afraid to show.

A glimpse of a frown, a worried crease on the forehead, a flash of anger or bemusement or distress in the eyes: these are clues as to how she’s feeling on the inside. She may be determined to show the world only the smiling lips, smooth forehead, and untroubled eyes that she thinks the world wants to see. Because her inner demons are her business and no one else’s, she presses the delete button on the rest.

What she may be forgetting is that those tiny imperfections are like handholds for a mountain climber, giving others who care for her a chance to reach places they might otherwise have little chance of attaining.

Apart from the problem of breeding envy, perfect outward images act like water-repellant material, pushing others away from the authentic person behind that just-right outfit and that dazzling smile. Many a revelation about a suffering individual or a couple in disarray evokes surprise from others, who saw only the smooth façade the sufferers showed the world. In their carefully curated ignorance, many a potential helping hand never had the chance to extend itself.

Now, I’m not advocating a ban on either beautiful pictures or outwardly carefree expressions. No one is obligated to wear her heart on her sleeve or her worries on her face. If someone takes the trouble to present herself a certain way, I owe her the respect of accepting that presentation. But let’s not forget that there’s more to the story. Often a lot more.

Let’s not let our belief in those glossy images lull us into a sense of complacency. Let’s not allow it to hold us back from reaching out to discover, and to help, the person who may be struggling behind the snapshot’s perfect façade.














Walking the Walk Have you ever had the experience of recognizing someone in the distance simply by the way they walk? I have, many times.

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