There’s No Story Without the Supporting Characters
Growing up, it was all about me. I was often told by my siblings that I was selfish, self absorbed and all that. But I never believed it. How could I be selfish? I wasn’t mean or petty, I didn’t bring others down to make myself shine, I didn’t make rungs out of others to get to the top of the ladder. So how could I be self absorbed?
Now I see that I was selfish. And yet, in a way, we are all selfish. We have to be. If we are not, our entire lives will be given away, who we are will be given away, and that isn’t good for anyone. We must live inside our own heads, our own bodies, so at some point or another, it has to be all about us.
But that doesn’t mean we always have to be the hero of our story. We can still be who we are and step aside to let someone else run the show.
As a child, I was going to be someone, somebody. Oh, I was going to shine. And life hasn’t managed to beat that dream out of me. Which is why I struggle so much with the knowledge that I’m not really anyone but, well, just me. And that me is not some star or success story or anything other than a mom, a wife, a friend, and a dreamer. A dreamer whose dreams haven’t always made her happy.
Let me try and explain what I’m getting at…
I am obsessed with movies and books and stories. I am particularly drawn to stories of survival. You know the ones I’m talking about, the stories where that certain individual makes it despite the fact that all cards are stacked against them, where an average person is called to save the world. A father struggling to save his family during the zombie apocalypse, a Jew trying to make it out of the holocaust alive, a soldier conquering a much larger and stronger enemy and changing the tides of war. These types of stories are my favorite because I always picture myself as the one that survives. Never do I ever imagine that I am the sorry bystander that gets blown to bits in the first fifteen minutes of the movie when the bomb goes off in a coffee shop where I was happily reading my book. No, I always picture myself as the one who stops the bomber. You see, I love these stories because I want to be part of them. No, I do not want to experience horrible atrocities and/or watch those I love suffer or die, but I want to be that hero. I want to be the one who makes it and not only makes it, but saves everyone else while I’m at it.
I do not want to be a supporting character, I want to be the star. I always have. And I think this is why I have spent so many years of my life fighting who I am. Because I am not the star, not really. I am not that hero saving the world. At least, not right now. Circumstances in my life are such that, I have been relegated to a supporting role in the grand scheme of things for, well, for my entire adult life (which, so far, is only just beginning anyways). And I have been fighting that role the entire time and resenting anyone who seems to have been granted star status over me.
I am not the big wage earner in my family. Actually, I’ve rarely earned a wage. I could probably move away and get the kind of job that would bring in a good wage, the kind that can support a family; I have a university degree, skills, drive, ambition, all the stuff that leads one to land a good job with great potential (no, a university degree is not necessary in this, I just mentioned it because I do have one in a field that I like and enjoy and that I could actually do something with even though I haven’t. I’m not saying that anyone without a degree cannot have a good job and be successful, actually, looking around my town, the majority of “successful” people do not have degrees. Trust me, I’m not jumping on that band wagon, it’s just a fact in my story is all). But things haven’t worked out that way, at least not yet. So I am here, playing back up to the person that has spent the past ten years building a career and earning a good wage. I have played the part of supportive wife that does not complain at the long hours, frustrations and freak outs, that pushes and helps and gives the pep talks when necessary. If a biography were to be written, I would be the one in the background, cheering on the actual star of the show, I wouldn’t be the show.
I’m the mother. The one who gets up in the morning earlier than everyone else just to have a minute or two to herself before she must set her needs aside in order to get children off to school with breakfast in their bellies and lunches in their backpacks. I’m the one who stops what she’s doing because the school phones asking to bring their kid clean clothes after falling in a puddle, or rushes to pick up a sick kid and spends the rest of the day making hot water with honey and lemon and attempts to get some work done with the droning of cartoons in the background. If any movie was to be written about our family right now, it would probably be about the teenaged girl learning about life and having her heart broken. And what part would I play? The mother that comes in and brushes the tears from her face and tells her that life goes on and there will be many more broken hearts in her future but also more full ones, the kind of hearts that overflow with joy. My screen time would be only a fraction of that of hers, as she would be the star. Mothers are not the stars of teen dramas.
And I used to hate this fact. I used to think I was wasting my life and wasting my time watching those around me build their own lives while I set mine aside. I used to ask the kind of questions like, what’s in it for me? I made demands, asking for anything to feel like a star, even if it only lasted as long as a dinner, or the opening of a gift, or a holiday where I could lie on the beach and think only of myself. I didn’t think I was good enough if I wasn’t the hero, if I wasn’t the main character.
Then I realized, it’s okay to be the support. It’s okay to step aside and let others be the star once in a while. I had to recognize the fact that helping others live their best life is not a waste of my own, if anything, it makes mine better. Because if my life was only about me and what I was getting out of it, it would be relatively miserable. Sure, I probably would have built up a career in the past decade or so, but it would have been rather lonely because I would have had to give up everyone around me to do so. I would not have had time to give my daughter a pep talk, to force my son to eat his vegetables, or to talk my husband down from a ledge (not a real ledge, a hypothetical one, obviously). I would have been too busy being a star to really pay attention to the others around me.
Most stories rarely contain one solitary character. If you took out the entire cast of characters except for the protagonist, the story would essentially suck, or be really really boring. Even Castaway had a cast of characters, as did Gravity and all those other relatively single-person stories. But there can only be one star, at least, one at a time. Even in stories where the view point changes, where the story is told through the eyes of different characters, we can only see through one set of eyes or we would get confused and pulled in too many directions.
It’s okay to step aside and give someone else their time in under the spotlight, because even if you are simply the supporting character, they probably wouldn’t have made it into that light without you. You are essential to their story and because of that, you may be the star to them. And even if that doesn’t grant you the highest paycheque or your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone, it is an invaluable part to play.
I am no longer that selfish girl who made everything about her, but if I’d spent the first part of my adulthood being the star of the show, I would probably be so self absorbed that I’d hardly notice all the little people I crushed under my feet. Everything would be about me, whereas now, everything is about my family. And that’s okay, actually, that’s probably a good thing. Because stepping back and watching my family succeed is accomplishment enough, at least for now. I know my time will come, that the tides will turn and it will be up to me to step into that limelight, even if that light is pale in comparison to the starlight I’d imagined as a child. It will be light enough for me, because it’s not about mine shining brighter than everyone else’s, it’s about me adding to the light of those around me. Because if we all helped those around us shine a little bit brighter, we’d be warmed by the glow of everyone around us, and not just ourselves.
I know it’s corny, but it’s true. And from now on, I’m going to take my supporting role a lot more seriously, because then, when they step up to accept their award, they’re gonna say, “And thanks to those without whom this would not have been possible.” And for a moment I’ll be a star, knowing that person was me.