Deep Down, We Are All Maria Shriver
When the Los Angeles Times broke the news on Monday that Maria Shriver had moved out of the Brentwood mansion she shared with her movie-star-turned-politician husband Arnold Schwarzenegger, I'm sure we were all tempted to indulge in a generous helping of schadenfreude.
After all, the marital misfortunes of celebrities provide confirmation that even superstars whose wealth, fame and good looks we envy are, in fact, fellow human beings no more impervious to heartache than the clerk at 7-Eleven who sold you the glossy magazine with their pictures on the cover. And truthfully, some part of us is compulsively, morbidly curious about the intimate, painful details. Who stepped out on who? Which one felt ignored, unappreciated, unloved? Who struggled, fruitlessly, to keep the ship from taking water and going down? Who's getting the house and the fortune, the kids and the dog? We're eager for their friends, and friends of friends, to dish the dirt. Inquiring minds want to know.
Lest you think I'm being sanctimonious, I must plead guilty to all of that, too. I thought nothing of reveling in whatever naughty tidbits I could find out about the Governator, so easily to dislike for his swollen biceps and haughty cigar-chomping self-confidence, and his soon-to-be ex, an impossibly elegant raven-haired scion of the extended Kennedy clan. (It's become a cliche, but a true one, that they're the closest thing that we Americans have to the British royals.) In fact, the coverage of their breakup was more delicious than gobbling down a whole box of SnackWell's lemon creme cookies in one sitting.
That is, until I saw this YouTube video, made earlier this year by Maria Shriver as part of her effort to launch a new website about self-actualization and altruistic activism. It was posted back in late March, probably not long after she quietly decided to split from her famous husband.
It's a little unsettling, and on another level, deeply moving, to see someone as famous and accomplished as Shriver reveal herself in this way. She's a former network TV news star, winner of a Peabody Award, and author of six bestselling books. At 55, she's still slim and beautiful. Even so, she's got a tempest swirling around her soul. There are no tearful, over-the-top histrionics, the sort of calculated display that we've grown accustomed to watching on reality television.
No, what we see here is just another one of us in midlife, grappling with the same self-doubts and uncertainties and the usual tinge of self-conscious embarrassment at not yet having figured out which way to go at that fork in the road. To quote Shriver:
Like a lot of you, I'm in transition, and people come up to me all the time and say, "what are you going to do? What have you come up with? Oh, I hope you're getting time to relax, and think, and take a break." It is so stressful to not know what you are doing next. When people ask you what are you doing and they can't believe you don't know what you are doing. And every idea you have, you think that maybe I shouldn't do that.
But what Shriver does next is even more remarkable, and uplifting. She asks visitors to the site, the people who presumably are coming to her for advice and inspiration, to give her some advice on what she should do. Help me figure it out, she says. She wants people to tell her how they went about getting through a rough spot in life, and how they coped with the financial, spiritual and emotional challenges.
Tell me some things you wish you would have known before you transitioned. Maybe it will help me.
It's fascinating to scan the comments on YouTube that Shriver received in response, all seven pages of them. As it turns out, there are people all over America, and perhaps the world, who understand and identify with what she has been going through. Readers tell her of how they survived their own failed marriages, spousal abuse, childhood traumas, illnesses and losing parents. Some give her diet advice ("Force yourself to keep eating -- mixing in some starches and fats. Otherwise, it starts to look like they're killing you") or recommend yoga and meditation. One woman recommends that she listen to rock guitarist-singer Robbie Robertson's new CD. But mostly they just try to encourage and support her. One woman offered this quote from the late comedienne Gilda Radner:
Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next.
As I watched the video and read the responses, I found myself thinking back to another long-ago celebrity's admission of midlife self-doubt and confusion, author F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1936 essay, "The Crack-Up." Unfortunately, social media didn't exist in Fitzgerald's day, so instead, he checked into a fleabag hotel, where he sat alone and contemplated what to do next. Alas, he decided that the way to happiness was to stop caring about other people or trying to help them, and to concentrate on his own gratification. I'm guessing you know how that worked out.
Of course, we don't have to worry about Maria Shriver following Fitzgerald's sad example. She's already got an impressive list of causes in which she's involved, ranging from raising research funds and awareness about Alzheimer's disease (which claimed the life of her father, Sargent Shriver, in January), to helping provide wellness and financial services to impoverished women. But it may turn out that her biggest contribution is simply letting other midlifers know that it's natural to be unsure about where you are going, and that the only answer is to just step on the gas and go full speed ahead.
Previous Post: Could You Live With Just 100 Things?
Next Post: Swimming "In Synch" to Stay Healthy