Last weekend my younger son took me on a scenic flight over Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. Once up in the air he asked if I’d like to have a go at flying the plane and explained a few things so that I could hold the plane steady as he snapped a couple of photos. The whole episode lasted less than 60 seconds after which I was more than ready to hand the joystick back into his capable hands while I gazed out of the window at familiar landmarks.
That evening he sent the photo of me ‘flying’ the plane. The more I looked at it the more I thought about how photos can be so deceptive and so with that in mind I decided to post it on social media, with a cutesy caption, as a kind of experiment to see what reaction it got. I was overwhelmed that so many thought I was really having flying lessons. I guess I should feel flattered that people assumed I could do something that complex!
The photograph I posted shows a very determined, focused, yet relaxed, middle-aged woman in control of a light aircraft. What that picture doesn’t show is my son persuading and coaxing me to actually get on the plane just 10 minutes earlier. It doesn’t show the risk-averse woman who is still scared of flying, especially in small planes. It doesn’t show the woman who is riddled with self-doubt, anxiety and insecurity, who struggles in large groups and sometimes just wants to run and hide from the world. Yet the photo is definitely of me, and I’m flying a plane.
I’m not looking for sympathy, pity or even compliments. I’m simply telling the truth which a single photograph can’t. So often I look at photos on Facebook and Instagram and feel that other people’s lives are so much more glamorous and exciting than mine. Their families are all so functional and together; their designer homes never have a dirty dish in their imported kitchen sinks; their fashionable clothes and hair are always perfect; there’s never a bead of sweat on the gym-toned bodies posing for post-workout selfies; there are tables groaning under the weight of gourmet chef- inspired dinners on a nightly basis, yet never a baked bean in sight.
It’s so easy to forget that these individual photos do not tell the whole story of people’s lives – they are simply snapshots. Even gym-toned bodies experience anxiety and depression, gourmet cooks have dysfunctional families, people in designer homes suffer divorce and death and on it goes…
I’m not suggesting we stop posting pictures of having a great time or celebrating life’s wonderful moments. In fact I have even stopped apologising in advance for the photo spam of my beautiful grandkids and my overseas travel. What I am suggesting is that we should never judge or make assumptions about the reality of other people’s lives based on the photos we see…
As for the photo of me flying a plane, I will save it as a memory of a moment that was both fun and terrifying at the same time!