And be kind.
Fairy tales – or fiction, in general – have a reputation for sheltering those with escapist tendencies. Sometimes, we simply need to escape this world with its harsh realities. Relish a time and place where everything has a dream-like quality to it.
But is that all there is to it? Are fairy tales really just a place to run away to, with no value whatsoever that can be taken to heart and used to make our (very real) lives more worthwhile?
Recently, I re-watched the 2015 live-action movie Cinderella, and it struck me that fairy tales are much sadder than we give them credit for.
We all know Cinderella’s story. She lives like a servant in her own home, sleeping by the cinders, her family long gone. Then she meets a prince, and she lives happily ever after.
One might think magic saved the day, but did it really?
Cinderella goes through the pain of losing those she loved, in addition to the apathy from the only family she had left, with surprising grace and kindness. While there is indeed magic involved, it is but a moment of sunshine in the grey skies of her life. And it is clear to us that she has earned that brief spell of magical intervention.
The message of this story isn’t that you should wait for a prince or even a fairy godmother to come rescue you from your miserable life. It is repeated like a prayer, that the real magic lay in the kindness she had in her heart. Even when the times were hard, she held on to the words “have courage and be kind.”
I have long been someone who equated kindness and forbearance with weakness. Life has taught me that I was woefully wrong. To be grateful, or kind, or considerate, when you’re feeling your lowest is one of the strongest things you can ever do. It’s easy to give in to rage or to irritation, but it takes great strength of will to hold back and see the light.
And Cinderella had that strength.
I seek refuge in fairy tales when I start to feel like cynicism is the only way to live life. It is certainly safer, yes. And while ensuring one’s own safety is paramount, no one has earned anything ever, by staying cocooned in their nest.
To be vulnerable is to be brave, and to be kind is to be strong.
And when we are too consumed by the trials of reality, it can be stories that help us remember the truth.