As I drove home from work the other night, I caught sight of a young nurse crossing the road in her uniform. When she crossed the road, looking frazzled and tired after a day's work, she would have seen a CoverGirl billboard featuring Ricki-Lee.
Had she taken in Ricki-Lee's shiny, perfect visage, it's a probability that the nurse would have felt every inch as dishevelled as she looked, and worse. Rather than the satisfaction of putting a hard day's work behind her, and the sweet expectation of arriving home to abandon her shoes and put on her slippers, she would have felt her lack.
Lately I have been thinking that the whole notion of billboards is quite cruel. They accost you from every which way, presenting us with messages and images that only add to our mental baggage on any given day. Should you be in a state of anguish, or tiredness, or vulnerable in some other way, that can really lead you astray. You are easy prey.
There you are, singing along to a favourite tune on the radio, taking in the sunset, and, bam!, a giant billboard for penile englargement, or divorce lawyers, or IVF or Bonds underwear. This can start your mind on the most absurd tracks of thought. I have no children! What if I get divorced? I feel fat and unattractive!
It's not very nice, is it?
I have no objection to people who are attractive, nor to letting people know about services and products that may be helpful to them. But I prefer the idea of seeking them out in my own private time, via the directory, as apposed to the indiscriminate positioning of the billboards that take up prime position by the roadside and tell us how we should or could be.
When we get distracted by images and messages that have no rightful place in our personal worlds, we are at risk of wandering off the perfectly good life path set before us. Like Peter making his way across the water to Jesus, it was only a brief sideways glance that caught him off guard and saw him start to sink.
Now, there is nothing wrong with Ricki-Lee. She seems like a great girl. But looking at that billboard, we get only one impression of her – thin, tanned, perfect – and that impression lingers. What of the girl behind the CoverGirl? The real girl? The daughter, the friend, the singer; the hopes, the sorrows. The one-dimensional image betrays her, and so too it does us.
There are lots of great girls in my life, including young nurses, who are full of life in all its complexity, varied challenges and expectations. When I am with them, I appreciate their "wholeness". When we glance at the billboards, a little bit of "us" dies inside, because we think momentarily of what it might be like to live that other person's life, to have that thing, to press the escape button on our own lives.
It's mind clutter we could better do without.
On a separate night, headed in a different direction, I passed a blank billboard and it gave me glee – with a blank canvass all we need do or be is exactly who we were created to be.
But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. - 2 Corinthians 10:12
Girl With a Satchel