In the Hollywood version of “The Princess Bride”, Westley (the pirate) is resuscitated and brought back to life. He marries his princess Buttercup and they ride off happily into the sunset. Many years ago, when I first read William Goldman’s version of the story he explained that the ending was meant to be quite different. In the real version of the story, Westley dies and there’s nothing to be done.
In his abridged version of this lovely little tale, Goldman learns and passes on a valuable lesson, “Sometimes life is just not fair”. As someone who is used to the proverbial happy ending, I should have taken issue with that ending but at the time, I found some comfort in the fact that someone had finally told the truth. And so like most 21-year-olds, I filed that bit of wisdom away for use at a later date.
A few years later, I was walking by a downtown skyscraper when I passed a bag lady holding a sign that read: $1.00 for a piece of my mind. Naturally as I was, and still am to some extent, in a hurry, I thought the sign said $1.00 for peace of mind. I guess you could tell what kind of a day I was having. So, rather than acquiring what I thought was peace of mind through some charitable act…she gave me a piece of her mind with this advice.
“Hey girlie, ain’t no such thing as a Hollywood ending.”
What?! As a newly minted career girl (pre Sex and the City) and someone who was just starting out on her life’s journey, this did not give me peace of mind. Of course I knew she was right but somehow there had to be an exception, at least for me. I had conveniently forgotten William Goldman’s adage on life.
I quickly learned that there were no exceptions, no eleventh hour cavalry rescues, and no knights in shining armor. The truth is that people die, promotions don’t materialize, the castle is drafty and the prince runs off with the scullery maid. In the second act, your job gets outsourced, you gain weight in strategic places, lovers lie and children keep coming home. So much for happily ever after.
Happily Ever After, it’s like one of those Zen koans… there is no there, there. What does that mean? I think too often we make the mistake of believing that happily ever after is a place, a destination, an end point. But it’s not. If as they say, life is a journey, then the best you can hope for are little pit stops of happiness along the way.
Of course I came to this realization a bit late in life. But then again I was always something of a late bloomer. In fact, it’s only in the last 5 years, since my divorce, that I’ve been acquiring a new perspective on life. Sometimes it’s fun, other times puzzling and many times it’s damn hard.
I’d like to think I’m a littler bit wiser, rather than worse, for the wear and tear on my soul. And by and large I am. The mistakes are fewer, the pleasures simpler and the “down time” a whole lot less than it used to be.
At the end of the day – I have realized that many of the steps forward you take, you take by yourself. Sometimes you get a little help along the way, that’s why God invented your mother, sisters, daughters and girlfriends. (Sometimes I think God should have quit while he was ahead). And then of course there are those other steps, too…you know, the ones that have you going round in circles or just plain backward. Unfortunately, those steps are yours alone…every single one of them.
The good news is, as a woman you can always stop and ask for directions. But that’s not an easy thing to do especially when you’re trying to show that you’re calm, confident and in control. How can you ask for help when you’re trying to live up to a role that you think everyone expects you to fulfill….that of Wonderful Woman.