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Facebook's Birthday Gift

I'm more than familiar with the frustrations of Facebook. (The constantly changing privacy policies! The inexplicable results of the "top news" settings! The inescapable ads for the shoes you just considered buying on Zappos!)

But after gorging on each and every Facebook movie in my news feed this week, I may have to overlook the past transgressions of Mark and Sheryl and instead thank them for the series of 62-second life lessons that they gave me this week.

If that makes you raise a doubtful eyebrow, I understand. I'm a journalist: a healthy mix of skepticism, cynicism, and witty sarcasm lives in the air you breathe in newsrooms. And I have no illusions about the site traffic and 10th anniversary buzz that Facebook generated by creating these personalized movies, courtesy of its massive databases filled with all our personal information.

What did surprise me, though, was how well these movies--or at least the ones I saw--captured the joyful, messy reality of life. In a period when we spend more time Instagramming a snowy day than actually enjoying it, I found these Facebook movies unexpectedly, well, unproduced. I'm not talking about production values like the fade speed on the images or the pacing of the accompanying music, but the raw content of the movies themselves.

The most liked posts that made so many of the movies weren't status updates from exotic vacations, but celebrations of sobriety, memories of wedding days, sighs of gratitude after a child's successful surgery, and the staggering relief of being safe at home on a day when a dangerously ill gunman showed up at the office, shooting to kill.

So many of the photos I saw in the Facebook movies were similarly unpolished. They weren't art-directed portraits by a professional photographer, but snapshots of stubborn toddlers, stone-faced adolescent athletes, nappers on the couch, homemade birthday cakes, and in one notable case, a Photoshopped picture of Tim Tebow with my friend Lisa's head superimposed on a body with a rather bodacious bosom.

As I watched movie after movie, including my own, I felt my own spirits lift little by little from the post-holiday winter doldrums. (Between the nonstop snow days and a family-size attack of the norovirus, it's been a tough start to 2014.) We all want to lead perfect, or at least perfect-looking, lives, but perfection is not what makes our lives worthwhile. It's the imperfections--the grief, the fear, the failures--and then the getting back up, no matter how slow or halting, that turn us into the people we are. It's our stumbles, after all, that often forge the strongest bonds with those we love, hammering our red-hot pain into a fierce, unbreakable circle of friends and family.

So go watch your Facebook movie and everyone's else too. Facebook may be the one celebrating, but its birthday gift is actually for you.

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