The man in the mirror

We live in a vain, narcissistic and selfie-obsessed world. We have all had to step around people blocking sidewalks and paths taking pictures of themselves. We all have that FB friend who posts pictures of every meal and of every stop they make. I know a woman who has no less than thousands of selfies on her phone, she is constantly picking up her phone and snapping a shot. The worse thing is she is over 40 and still making “duck” faces. Ladies, please. You need to know when you are too old to do that.

I never caught the selfie bug. I hate pictures of myself so I NEVER take selfies. In fact, I dive into bushes to avoid being photographed at all. Photos of me are rare because I just don’t like how I look and how I feel.

They’re like mirrors.

I don’t look at them either.

Mirrors are not a marvel of invention. It’s just glass, made from sand. Yet they wield an incredible power. They can force a person who looks into it to not see the whole picture but to only focus on the flaws. The most beautiful woman in the world could look in the mirror and immediately focus on a tiny birthmark on her forehead. And that birthmark troubles her, and brings on an insecurity so powerful that she is rendered unable to see her beauty.

Of course, there is another reason why one might not like mirrors. They just don’t like the person looking back at them.

I recently had lunch with a dear friend and the “man (or woman) in the mirror” came up. I haphazardly mentioned it in conversation and my she immediately teared up. Confused, I patiently waited for her to enlighten me as to the cause of her tears. As it turns out when she was younger (pre-puberty) she had Alopecia. Yup, at the age in which kids are the most cruel she was completely bald. This wonderful young lady, I have no reason to believe that she was any less wonderful then because she’s pretty damned amazing now, was so traumatized that she wouldn’t look in a mirror. I let her tell her tale of bullying and general harassment and let her compose herself. Once it was appropriate I offered up that I was speaking more about looking in the mirror and not liking the person you are.

“It was both” she said. The bullying made her not like herself. The bullies had done their damage.

She fortunately grew hair as a teenager but it wasn’t a magic elixir. The scars remain.

The tragedy is that her condition, and the subsequent bullying did far more damage than just mere insecurities about her appearance. It massively affected her entire self image, physical, psychological and emotional. To the point that she didn’t want to look in the mirror. She is mostly over it, but it’s still bubbling under the surface. 0

Despite having blogged about this topic before, our conversation made me revisit it.

For the longest time I made it a strict policy to not look at any reflective surface except the mirror while shaving. Partially due to a fear of a massive blood loss from a shaving cut, also that for the longest time I hated how I looked. All I saw was an overweight guy with several jowls, pale complexion and a flabby physique. I also knew that even if I was able to overcome all of those physical things, I still didn’t want to look at my reflection because I didn’t like who I was as a person. The same with photos, which I would rather dive into a shrubbery head first than be caught by the camera lense.

I believe, hell I know, that there are some seriously morally reprehensible people who have no problem looking at their reflection. I also know that there are plenty of people with physical flaws, some downright unattractive, that can look in the mirror effortlessly. I have never been either one of them. I envy them. I have always been blessed/cursed with a heightened self-awareness masquerading as a moral compass. I had the wonderful skill to be markedly aware that I was not on the right path morally and spiritually yet have no desire to work on it.

Until one day when I forced myself to stand there and take a good, hard look. I did an inventory of what I could change about my appearance and what I couldn’t. That was the easy part. The belly could be vanquished by better choices in food, a gym membership and a little self-discipline. The pasty complexion could be remedied by going outside instead of sleeping until noon. The sunken eyes, well a sharp reduction in my alcohol consumption was all that was required. The receding hairline and bad teeth, well I would just have to live with those. Again, as hard as it was for a person who wrapped in a towel as I passed a mirror after showering, it was still the easy part. Liking the guy that I did see as a person proved to be far more difficult.

Self-examination, if done properly, requires a keen and unflinching eye and you need a goal. You have to be a Forensic Accountant to do it right, for the inevitable outcome is that you are going to find things that have to be brought to the boss’s attention regardless of how well they are going to be received. When I turned my powers of observation on myself I found out more than I wanted and not much of it was good. But I was determined to do a deep dive and really, for once and for all, improve myself and be the person I wanted to be. It was exactly as hard as I thought it would be. But through brutal honesty and an unflinching eye I learned what I had to do.

My behavior, my attitude, my sense of self, my humor and my relationships with those close to me all needed a veritable shitload of work. It started with my children. I stopped fighting with them and reminded myself that I’m supposed to be the adult in the room. I stopped fighting with my wife because I’d have more luck wrestling a spoon from a fat lady at the Cheesecake Factory than I would winning an argument or changing a viewpoint with her. I started being nicer in general to everybody. I became a better listener. I had known all of these things were my Achilles heel and once I started I did it all at once. But it wasn’t until I got really sick and hit rock bottom (around the time that I started this blog) that it all fell into place. No longer the driving force that I once was in my children’s life that I was; no longer the “go-to” indispensable man at work; no longer the breadwinner and backbone of my family I realized that I would have to find a new purpose. I am happy to report that life showed it to me in due time. I have been willingly forced into a life of altruism; volunteerism, charity, Freemasonry and part-time impromptu amateur motivational speaker. I even occasionally serve as an inspiration to someone who thought that they hit rock bottom. Until they heard my story.

I almost like who I have become with a few minor exceptions.

My friend that I had lunch with did have difficulty finally staring at her own image and accepting what she saw. At the end of the day she realized that those cruel, heartless pricks that made her feel bad about herself didn’t have any power over her except the insults. They didn’t know her, the person she would become and how awesome she is. She is now a happily married, independently successful businesswoman and an amazing, funny and caring person. She wins. But nevertheless, she still had to deal with both issues I have spoken of, not liking her reflection over the physical and the emotional.

Me, I had a longer journey than she did, but I got there. The same way we all make major steps forward.

I waited until I couldn’t any longer.

My Walden

Many of our greatest American poets and writers penned their best work while admiring a body of water. Robert Frost was inspired by hiking the woods in both winter and summer and waxed poetic about the beauty of the seasons in New England. Henry David Thoreau was inspired by the serenity of Walden Pond. Reading Walden as a young man I could relate to the notion of hiking through thick woods, to come upon an opening in the thicket and stumble upon an oasis. A body of water, glimmering in the summer sun, or the frozen surface glistening in the sparse hours of daylight while in the throes of winter. They both convey such a calming image that inevitably leads to a moment of reflection and wonder. I have 2 bodies of water that invoke the spirits of Frost and Thoreau. One is Ossipee Lake, which I am not in sight of year round. The other is my beloved duck pond.

The duck pond is the single one thing that makes the lot we live on graduate from great to awesome. It captivated my mom and dad when they bought it in the 80’s. The lot is two acres but is surrounded by wetlands which mean that despite not owning it, we have the luxury of enjoying another three acres with the security that it can’t be built on. Our view is ours to keep.

The house was clearly constructed with a view of the pond in mind. The main entrance, two sliding glass doors, and many windows all face it. I find myself drawn to the pond year round. Many mornings I have had coffee on the deck and spotted a deer or two that ventured to the water line for a drink. It teems with birds of all kinds, mostly Canadian Geese, and Mallards but occasionally the great Heron with the six-foot wingspan will swoop in like a Concorde Jet landing at a Municipal Airport. I love the birds, all of them. It pleases me to the core to see the small V-shaped ripple in water as a solitary duck makes its way across the pond.

At night, the pond shifts gears from quiet oasis to a bustling ecosystem as frogs loudly make their presence known, crickets (Cicadas?) create a cacophonous symphony, and the industrious beavers work tirelessly at their latest monument. It is deafening in early spring but like everything else, you get used to it.

With the late Spring in New England this year, I have looked eagerly to the pond each morning for signs of my favorite season. The pond tells all, year round. In the fall, the decreasing bird population signals the approach of winter. In the early winter, the encroachment of ice indicates the arrival of winter. In the spring, I monitor daily the receding of the ice and the return of my beloved birds. This year, the pond didn’t give me what I wanted, despite my constant pleading. By the middle of April, it was still in the throes of winter. And then, I think this week, Spring suddenly showed up. The ice is gone, my birds are back and last night the Crickets were deafening, much to the pleasure of my ears. Spring is actually here, I saw both a Wasp and a Tick this morning while walking the dog.

This afternoon, I had a coffee on the deck and admired my pond. My ducks are there, the sun reflected on the ripples suddenly brought on by a light but satisfying afternoon breeze. I have not been outside much lately. My sickness has made me tired, weak and cold. On days that I used to wake early and race outside, I have found myself sleeping late and spending my waking hours under a warm blanket. As I sipped my coffee, reflecting on my life recently, it occurred to me that my beloved pond can serve as a powerful metaphor for my life.

The seasons are fundamentally about change. In New England, we always have four seasons (sometimes in one week) and we can count on it. Change is inevitable. I see it coming by studying my pond. This Spring, my pond shed its blanket of ice and welcomed back all of the creatures that depend upon it. It embraced the change and is now doing what it is supposed to. Today, I shed my actual blanket for the first time and took a step, albeit a small one, towards shaking off the cold, grey winter that has occupied my soul for months. Like my duck pond, I let the sun hit me and I eagerly absorbed it, seeking enough light to allow it to warm me, reflect off of me and have enough in the tank to shine it for those that depend and count on me. I need to welcome back the desire to go on as if the urgency of a coming fall and winter was fast approaching. It is indeed that urgent.

Today, like Frost and Thoreau, I have found inspiration. I don’t know if they ever sat on the edge of their beloved oasis’s with a heart as heavy as I have of late but I can see how it inspired them to put it to paper for others to read and enjoy. It has certainly inspired me to do so, and I hope someone will enjoy reading this. It may be just a blog, but it could also be the first entry in a great epiphany in which a lost soul gets his mojo back.

Imagine that, all this about a bunch of ducks.