Shame washed over me as quickly as my thought arrived, disturbing my relaxing read of the morning paper. The headline that Elizabeth Gilbert was getting divorced struck me with a sudden dash of vindication. The award winning author was separating from the man whom her million plus readers of Eat, Pray, Love knew as Felipe. After twelve years, which included publication of Gilbert’s other best seller, Committed: A Love Story, it was over.
Why would I possibly feel any hint of satisfaction at the heartbreak of another? Did I dislike her? Had I become a cynic of marriage after decades of doing divorce? Did I begrudge someone else having a joyful love story after I had my first marriage end in divorce and my second in death?
This wasn’t the first time I was guilty of a silent unkind response to celebrity news of loss. I realize now it’s rooted in my suspicion about those who might make life appear overly glamorous or easy. As a divorce lawyer and as a coach, I have seen how desperate people are to live out the lives of their hopes and dreams. It’s one heroic struggle.
So when disappointment comes to those appearing to live a perfectly charmed life, I feel a mild comfort. It is the comfort of knowing that others experience being human, including—or perhaps especially—others who have led great lives of tremendous inspiration. When the rich, the famous, the talented and the wise struggle, perhaps it’s okay that I do, too.
Shame was a visceral recognition that my thought did not match up to the truth: We all have breakups and heartaches. The truth is that Gilbert is enduring the pain, loss, and grief that comes from having to release all of those big hopes and dreams that anyone who has ever been in love has had.
For a split second I forgot.
So where does this leave me and my secret snarky thoughts? Hopefully returning to that place of compassion for this broken-hearted couple having to live out their private journey through divorce while strangers opine. Hopefully, too, with a dose of self-compassion, reminding myself that I am not my thoughts.
Shame is what we experience when we don’t live up to our own standards. My hope is to live up to my own, to notice when I have not, and to do better when I face a new day.
Gilbert reports that their separation is amicable. It sounds like she is on the right path on her heroine’s journey. The next time I’m inclined toward celebrity sneering, I would do well to follow her lead, to allow compassion to replace my judgment and to wash away my shame.