— C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), The Philadelphia Story
I don’t care that this movie was made in 1940 and is only in black and white and shades of gray. It is stellar. Funny, witty, and only slightly provocative, it’s the movie that gave Jimmy Stewart an Oscar, made America like Katharine Hepburn again, and let Cary Grant flash his smirk around. No complaints here.
It’s funny, though, how truth sneaks up on your when you’re not expecting it. Dexter says this line to Tracy, a woman who is cold and brash and not very likable because she’s so busy being a pillar of strength, a goddess. She doesn’t suffer weakness or fools, and this makes her harsh.
Dexter’s right – the audience doesn’t feel like she’s human. Because in order to be a honest-to-goodness human being, you must have some regard for frailty, both in yourself and others. You must be honest about your own life and your shortcomings, while letting others have theirs. To recognize that this frailty is part of life, this weakness and sadness and brokeness, that is what it is to understand life. To truly live.
I know everyone and their grandma’s dog is talking about this, but today I read the GQ interview with Billy Ray Cyrus. It’s long and incredibly saddening. He’s a broken man, rambling on for hours to the only one who will listen to him – an interviewer – while sitting in the dark at his kitchen table. Nothing is his fault, and everything’s falling apart. For someone who assisted his young daughter in a meteoric rise to success, this is a low place indeed.
But to see his humanity, his loneliness and deflection, his capacity to blame everything on Satan (which, I mean, okay, but also, there’s, y’know, you, Billy Ray), that makes him human to me. That makes me pity him and love him because he’s not some C-list celebrity on some tipsy wooden pedestal. He’s just a guy who lost his family because of some crappy decisions.
To be first-class human beings, we have to see and love the frailty in others. We have to recognize how it creates character and motivates change. And we have to own our own fragile nature. How quickly we can fall and break – let us extend to others the grace we would extend to ourselves.