I have a theory. If I quote the following lyrics, “No matter how you’re heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true,” one of three possible responses will result:
- A series of high-pitched squeals occasionally mixed with exclamations of “I LOVE CINDERELLA!”
- An exercise in gagging.
- Complete and utter indifference.
My goal in writing this article is to convince those of you still reading (Hi, Mom!) that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Cinderella’s story; we may even have a lot to learn from her. How, you might ask, do I plan to accomplish such an impossible task? Through the use of a few lighthearted, entertaining, yet thought-provoking paragraphs of course.
And you thought being a writer was easy.
First things first. Even if you’ve never watched a Disney movie in your life (in which case you need to reassess your priorities) you’ve probably heard of Cinderella. Her story has been retold and reimagined and in some cases ruined (even I can’t advocate for Cinderella II) for hundreds of years. We’ve come up with musicals, parodies, operas, ballets, even psychological disorders that draw inspiration from her story, and to top it all off we have a phrase – “Cinderella story” – to describe any tale that follows her pattern of rags to riches, and there are many. Basically, she’s kind of a big deal; the big question is why.
I don’t claim to be a professional psychologist, but I did at one point in my life seriously consider changing my name to Kelly Jane Cinderella Odor, so my insights deserve some credibility. I think her story has made such an impression on us because we, like Cinderella, have dreams, and we need to be reminded every once in a while that dreams are worth having – even (and especially) the ones that seem least likely to come true.
Let me clarify: I’m not talking about Cinderella’s dream to find a prince (honestly I’ve never really liked Charming; something about his name just screams “red flag” to me). I’m talking about her much bigger dream of living in a world where good things happen and people are kind and love is real. Maybe a better word for it is hope.
Hope is tough to hold on to, and no one knew that more than Cinderella. Ridiculed, rejected, and pretty much enslaved in her own home (by the very people who were supposed to love and nurture her), the girl endured some major injustices. Yet she still had the nerve to say things like “Have faith in your dreams and someday your rainbow will come smiling through.” Not only that, but she did everything in her power to make her dreams reality. So she’s locked in her house with no friends? She talks to animals (questionable, I’ll admit, but you gotta hand it to her for resourcefulness). So she doesn’t have anything to wear to the ball? She recycles her mom’s old dress (Cinderella: the first hipster). So her stepmother and stepsisters tell her she’s worthless? She treats them with kindness, day after day after day.
The point of her story isn’t that she got the prince. The point is that before she ever knew he existed, she woke up every morning, saw the same hatred and heartache she experienced the day before, and still chose to say (sometimes sing), “I believe there are good things here. And if all else fails, I’m going to be one of those good things.” That takes guts. And a thorough knowledge of music theory and composition.
“I’m struggling because I feel like moving to Thailand means I won’t get married for a long time.”
These are the words I told my friend on the phone last week. I didn’t mean to. She’s just really good at asking questions and listening (be warned: if any of your friends go to school for counseling, you’ll never conceal anything from them ever again).
I hate admitting I want a relationship. Saying it out loud reminds me this part of my life is not as I would have it be, which puts some serious holes in my “I’m fine on my own” and “I just have a lot to focus on” arguments. It’s like reopening a wound for no reason other than accidentally knocking it against a wall – and then getting embarrassed because you couldn’t hide how much it hurt. I’d rather keep the cast on, if you don’t mind.
Which is why I couldn’t believe I’d allowed myself to tell her what was really going through my head. But I had, so I did what any rational person would: distract her from my vulnerable state with an eloquent, well-prepared “I’m fine” speech that sounded something like, “But that’s okay, I mean, I’m going to be doing a lot of awesome things, you know? And it’s probably better this way anyway – no, I know it’s better this way – because it would be way too complicated if…”
She waited patiently until I finally shut up and said, “You’re right, you might not get married for a while.” Honestly, I breathed a sigh of relief at those words. Even she thinks it’s impossible; time to forget about it and go about my life. There’s safety in retreat, isn’t there?
Then she had to go say: “I know sometimes it seems easier to shut that part of you off because you don’t want to be disappointed, but don’t do that.”
Counselors, man. It’s like they know.
Or maybe it’s just that she’s a really good friend and knows me. As if to prove it, she left me with, “God is writing an incredible story for you. Someday it will make sense.”
As we hung up the phone and I sat back down in front of my computer to work on a blog article about hope (ahem), I realized I had a choice in front of me. I could either say “It’s never gonna happen the way I think it should so just get through it” or hold on to hope. Not the hope that I will go to Thailand and meet a tall, flannel-wearing man who loves Jesus, reads Hemingway in his free time, and maintains a well-kept yet ruggedly handsome five o’clock shadow at all times (not that I’ve thought about this at all). But the hope that this move across the world is part of a grand, complex, beautiful story perfectly tailored to me – and by an author who doesn’t make mistakes.
I think sometimes the amazingness of Cinderella’s story gets lost on us because A) we’ve heard it so many times and B) we know she’s going to get her happy ending. But let’s not forget she didn’t know she would end up with a prince, and she chose to believe life was good anyway. What we miss in the movies and fairytale books is how difficult it must have been for her to make that decision – how many sleepless nights she spent staring at the ceiling wondering if she was crazy and should just give up. Somehow she didn’t, and that’s why her story has stuck with us for so long.
Bet you never thought this hard about a fairytale before.
You are officially no longer allowed to dismiss, reject, or love Cinderella only because she wears a sparkly dress (although I think we can all agree, that dress is fantastic). You are allowed Option Four: to respect the bravery it took for Cinderella to do what she did and go and do the same.
Because if there’s anything we learn from her, it’s that a life of hope is worth having. Sure, holding on to hope means we will know disappointment and hurt like an old friend, but it also means we will know a life that is deep, rich, and full. Hope helps us see the good that is already around us and find out what good we have to bring to the situation. Where hopelessness locks us in to bitterness and despair, hope gives us the freedom to have joy. Hope is what gives us the win, no matter the circumstances.
I don’t know the hopeless situation you are in, and I don’t pretend to know how much it hurts. But I believe God is writing an incredible story for you. Someday it will make sense. And if you believe that, you’ve already won.
Don’t give up hope, friend; it’s worth having, even (and especially) when you have every reason to give up.