Monday, January 15, 2018

Through the looking glass

I recently had a new built-in wardrobe constructed at my place. When I was presented with the different options available, my main concern was with the idea of mirrored sliding doors. "Won't it feel really narcissistic looking at myself the whole time?" I asked various friends. "Oh, you'll get used to it" was the most common reply. So, I went with the mirrored built-in robe. A man with a truckload of tools came by, and after 4 hours of measuring, sawing, drilling and sweating, I had my new wardrobe, and, surprisingly, a quite different way of looking at things.

A younger me, mum and a mirror

You see, back a year or so ago I had decided to interview my mum about her life. I found a website with a whole bunch of questions that are good to ask people, and whittled the list down to what felt like a manageable number that would relate to our mum. Then the interviewing process began. As we sat together on the verandah, she diligently shared stories about her childhood, life as a mother, and her spirituality while I listened, typing as much of it as I could onto my little laptop.

Then, following a gap where life got in the way, I began the editing process. It felt intimate and special to be pulling together my mother's words, and helping them to take shape. My aim was to keep her phrasing intact, but take out all the questions and have it flow as if she'd said it as one stream of consciousness. On her birthday a year after the process had begun, I gave her the story, profressionally bound and complete with a picture of her and her grandson on the front. Mum was quietly excited. She'd go home and read it that very night, she told me. 

It took mum about a week to contact me again after that night when she read her story. The truth is, she hadn't liked it. "It was like having a mirror held up in front of me and finally seeing myself the way others must see me."

I recently had a similar experience to mum. I was contacted on a dating site by a very promising man. I immediately resonated with a lot of what he said and how he saw the world. The first time we spoke, the conversation lasted 4 hours. It all seemed to be going quite well, so we made a plan to meet when I'd be in his city.

In the meantime we exchanged long emails and continued with our enjoyable phone conversations. We would each make ourselves a cuppa and drink our tea while we chatted about the state of the world, feminism, literature, making music, Winnie-the-Pooh, and the stories of our lives. We shared some of our most intimate secrets, and the experiences that gave us real joy. 

Just as mum was excited at the prospect of reading her story, I was becoming more and more hopeful that our date would signal the start of a splendid story of my own. But then, with our interstate date only a week away, he called up to cancel. "I just don't think it's going to work". 

I hung up the phone, burst into tears, and lay on my bed while the grief of unfulfilled expectations washed over me. Sitting up, I glared at my reflection. Eyes blotchy with tears,  hair disshevelled, and those extra holiday kilos defiantly bulging out of my house dress, what I saw in the glass was suddenly not in any way the picture of romantic possibility or the confident woman I'd imagined myself to be.

The next day at work, eyes still a bit blotchy, I endured the mundane, and busied myself with the tasks at hand. Occasionally, when my colleague was chatting about this and that, my eyes would well up a little, and I hoped it didn't show.

It was only when I was packing up my things at the end of the day that I noticed a purple envelope slipped into my bag. It was a thoughtful note from my colleague, reminding me of the qualities she admires in me. Not knowing what was wrong, but sensing my pain, she had held a different mirror up in front of me, reflecting a more positive picture of who I am and the direction my story might take. It helped me see my situation in a much more positive light. The downside was that it only made the blotchy eye situation worse!

A thoughtful gesture can change everything

As for mum, after some time she told me she had re-read her story with fresh eyes as well. She could be compassionate with the parts of herself that she'd initially felt repelled by. She was thinking of writing more of her story...filling in the bits that I hadn't yet captured. She, too, wanted to hold up a kinder and more generous mirror to the narrative of her life.  

So, I've decided that my next home improvement project will be to put a few affirming messages on the looking glass. I want to be sure that the image reflected back at me is of the beautiful, courageous and kind person who my friend sees. 

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