The Mirrors of Self

One of my all-time favorite movies is Neverending Story. It earned that rank because it is not only entertaining, but there are parts of it that I think about time and again as they teach important life lessons. One such scene is when the hero has to go through a series of tests, to prove himself worthy to be the hero. One of the tests is to see himself in a mirror. He thinks that will be absurdly simple, but his mentor explains to him “this mirror is different.” This mirror shows the REAL you. Some people are surprised and devastated by what they see. People who think they are brave look into the mirror and see cowards. You’ll have to watch the movie to see what “our” hero sees in his mirror.

I think about that mirror a lot. Those moments that we see a glimpse of who we really are, for better or for worse. For example, I love water and for years I had this idea that I wanted to go white water river rafting. My husband, who has actually done it, had heard me talk about this many times, and for reasons known only to him, one day he decided to hold up the mirror. “Be real, you would HATE white water rafting.”

“What?!” How can you say that”

“You hate being out of control,” he replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Yikes! Guilty as charged. My fear of being out of control is so strong that I don’t do water slides or any slides for that matter. Remember in Snow White, that mirror that could talk? Mine said, “There’s nothing more out of control than white water river rafting.”

I had to admit he was right, but what a shock. How could I be so beguiled? Anyway now, I’m thinking kayaking on a placid lake is more my style.

The tricky thing about mirrors though, is that you can’t always trust the mirrors other people hold up for you. They are like those mirrors in the Carnival Fun House that distort your shape in some way, making you taller or fatter. They are fun, but not realistic.

Recently, one of my co-workers told me that I had “come a long way”. He started before I did and he said when he first met me he didn’t think I would last. He was sure that I would run away screaming. I wanted to tell him, “Hey, I worked in prison and with juvenile delinquents before coming here. I will out last you.” I didn’t say that though. The sweet-side of me (the reason he thought I wouldn’t last) prevailed. His intention was to give me a compliment so I just laughed with him and let it go.

Even my husband doesn’t get it right every time. One day we got into a discussion about bravery. I said I thought I was brave, and he laughed. The rascal! He defended himself with, “You’re afraid of heights, dentists, closed spaces and slides and a dozen other things.”

I said, “yes, but, but, but. . .” Actually I did have some ideas I thought proved my point, but he was sadly not convinced (so I’ll spare you). I felt like this character created by Lewis Carrol: “I’m very brave generally,” he went on in a low voice: “only today I happen to have a headache.”

Wouldn’t you know, my job provided a mirror to answer the question. I think you can guess where I am going with this. When two teenage boys, that are in much better shape than I am start fighting, and I (fat, fourty and foolish) step in between them. . .well, I say that’s brave. My sweetheart agrees. I actually love that part of my job because it allows me to see a different side of myself. A side I like.

Mark Twain explained it well, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave.” Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar, 1894

As we make our way through life, the reflections in our mirrors may hold surprise, disappointment, mystery or pleasure but regardless of what we see there, we are better for having paused and considered the view.

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