On Monday mornings I have a regularly scheduled phone appointment with my friend Patricia and this week the subject of mirrors emerged as our main theme. I was telling her that one of the side effects of my chemotherapy was that I looked weird, especially my eyes. Not all the time, but during the week I receive chemo.
I noticed it after the first round of chemo and particularly so this time. I explained how disconcerting it is to look at my face in the mirror and see eyes I have looked at for six decades that all of a sudden don’t look like my eyes. Whose eyes are these I wonder? Is this me? I scrutinize my face to see if there is an explanation but I can’t find one.
I made a point to look in mirrors when my head was shaved. I didn’t want to be startled by myself or be afraid if I caught a glimpse in the mirror. So I looked to the sides, the back, the top and finally the front. Now, I can see myself again, even without hair. It is a relief, and sometimes, depending on the light or my eyesight, I think that it’s really not that bad.
Patricia told me about one of her friends who made a conscious choice to use a mirror less. She didn’t break the mirrors or cover them up but she gave them less authority in her life. She might catch a glimpse of herself when she walked by a mirror or see a slightly blurred image as she washed her face but she no longer lingered at the mirror. As time went on she saw less and less of herself in the mirror but more importantly she began seeing more and more of who she really was. It changed her life in a significant way.
I also recalled a story about an old friend of mine who had a transformative holiday when she had spent one entire summer on a boat. It was not the boat that was significant but the fact that the boat had no mirrors. For two full mirror free months she was intact, whole, and good enough.
I am not suggesting that we break our mirrors, but I too am learning that I am not just what I see reflected back at me. Maybe on my next round I will take a mirror break. Maybe we all could use a break from time to time.
I love this Japanese poem and maybe he is right, it is time to break that mirror after all.
Body and Soul
In the morning
After taking cold shower
-----what a mistake-----
I look at the mirror.
There, a funny guy,
Grey hair, white beard, wrinkled skin,
-----what a pity-----
Poor, dirty, old man!
He is not me, absolutely not.
Land and life
Fishing in the ocean
Sleeping in the desert with stars
Building a shelter in mountains
Farming the ancient way
Singing with coyotes
Singing against nuclear way-
I’ll never be tired of life.
Now I’m seventeen years old,
Very charming young man.
I sit down in lotus position,
Meditating, meditating for nothing.
Suddenly a voice comes to me:
To stay young,
To save the world,
Break the mirror.”
Nanao Sakaki from “Break the Mirror” translated by Gary Snyder