Have you ever wondered what happened to Cinderella after her magical wedding? Did she truly live happily ever after, or was her life similar to ours in the ordinary world? Did the Prince (now King) get sick and need Cinderella to take care of him? Did his overzealous adoration for Cinderella soften over time?
What about Cinderella and the King’s children? Did they even have any children? If not, how did they feel about it? And, if so, were their children well behaved or did they have problems and growing pains like all of us do?
As a young girl, I loved Disney fairy tales. I read the books. I watched the movies. I even had the opportunity to go to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I was captivated by the princesses, the castles, the magic, and the happily ever afters.
I am still, to this day, a big fan of Disney fairy tales, and more specifically, any love story with a happily-ever-after ending. I like the promise of hope. And in the case of Cinderella, I like the idea that goodness and kindness always win.
Of course, the real world isn’t always as pleasant as Cinderella’s fairy tale.
Growing up, I was shielded from most of life’s struggles. My mom and dad took care of me, paid all the bills, cooked dinner, washed clothes, and sheltered me from most of the painful aspects within the world. But despite my parents’ best intentions, there are some cruelties we can’t wave a magic wand over and wish away—things like hate, multiple forms of prejudice, incurable diseases, and even death. These very issues, whether impacting us personally or just on our TV and phone screens, tend to diminish our energy and confidence over time. It becomes cumbersome to not only come up with solutions to the challenges but find the determination to carry out a course of action. In turn, our hope disintegrates.
If you know me, you know that, for the most part, I try to find the positive in the negative and that I use gratitude to get me through life’s toughest seasons. Still, when it feels like I can’t catch a break and life’s day-to-day issues continue to come at me from the left and right, I long for some version of the “happily ever after.”
Cinderella’s story is uplifting because while she had painful experiences (i.e., losing her father; gaining a wicked stepmother and stepsisters that caused her turmoil, conflict, and oppression; falling in love with a man under “magical” pretenses she knew she could never replicate), we, the readers, are guaranteed a happy ending. Cinderella’s story, like many fairy tales, leads us to believe Cinderella has overcome her challenges and will live happy forevermore.
Reality, however, doesn’t work like fictional stories—there are some challenges we never overcome.
Sure, pieces of books mimic pieces of reality: the struggle, the angst, and the fight of day-to-day living. But fairy tales, and other forms of stories, tend to only explore these pieces in segments of time, then wrap up characters’ problems by forcing them to dig in, overcome, and achieve a nice happily ever after.
Eventually, we too, dig into our real challenges and overcome our segments of struggle. But we are not naïve; we know we will confront new sets of challenges in our future.
That’s where reality truly differs from fiction: my story, your story, and our story involve more than one segment of time. Our life stories are really a series of stories with the same characters fighting similar battles over and over again. The good news—the best news—is there is always a happily ever after at each segment’s end.
How’s that for a little bit of hope? We are granted the happily ever after—multiple times along our life’s journey.
So, I wonder, was Cinderella ever frustrated with the King for leaving his clothes scattered on the floor or sometimes misplacing his crown? Did she complain under her breath as she swept up the pieces of her glass slipper that the kids accidentally shattered while playing inside the castle? Did her stepmother call her to apologize, leaving Cinderella feeling conflicted because it is so difficult to forgive and trust again? And was she distraught and heartbroken after her favorite mouse died from natural causes?
Of course, the real Cinderella would have experienced all of this, even though the fairy-tale Cinderella left us at the moment of her happily ever after. Life on the outside of a book is similar to the journey written on the pages within. Each involves difficulties, trials, hard-won battles, celebrations, and many, mini happily ever afters.
So, friends, don’t give up hope on your fairy tale. Lean in during the hard times and pause to fully embrace all of your happily-ever-afters.