A Reflection on What it Means to Look in the Mirror

Homeless_BlogHeaderIt’s not always easy to look in the mirror, especially at my age when the blemishes of experience start to crop up as brown spots and fine (or not-so-fine) lines. However, my age has also taught me that the real difficulty of looking in the mirror is beyond a skin-deep reflection.

I had an experience recently on my way to a hair appointment that forced a look beyond the fine lines. I skipped out of work a little early to make sure I caught a train that would undoubtedly get me to my appointment on time because, after all, looking in the mirror is a lot easier if one’s hair is sublime. Almost at Boston’s North Station, with just a few minutes to spare, something caught my eye in a subway entrance.

She reminded me of my children as babies in that desperate effort to get from crawling to walking – but without the indescribable wonder of how babies know what they’re supposed to do next.

That something turned out to be a woman, probably my age but looking years older, scuttling along the floor like a crab. Her hair, chaotic and grey, hadn’t seen a hairdresser in a very long time, nor shampoo. Her nails were cracked and brown, her dirty clothes multi-layered to meet the all-season needs of the homeless. Her eyes were vacant, lifeless, in spite of the all-consuming effort to get to where she wanted to go.

This was the most alarming piece of the modern-day Hogarth scene. So inebriated, she couldn’t get up from being on all fours. She rocked back and forth; she crawled; she leaned against the subway station wall to try to propel herself up. She reminded me of my children as babies in that desperate effort to get from crawling to walking – but without the indescribable wonder of how babies know what they’re supposed to do next.

You’re probably thinking I was standing there gawking at this woman for a long time. That was the funny thing. This all transpired in that amount of time just long enough for me to contemplate my own next steps. Do I do the kind, considerate, and moral thing and go find help for this woman? Or do I look the other way, chalk it up to one person (me) can’t change the plight of the human condition, and head to the train so I can make my appointment? The clock was ticking, and trains don’t alter their schedules for moral considerations.

As it turns out, I was spared the decision. A subway worker and transit security officer appeared to deal with this woman so altered she was reduced to an infant-like state. Apparently, a good human made the right and moral choice to find help.

Once settled on the train, the safety of making my appointment intact, I had the time to look in the mirror beyond the brown spots. It wasn’t comfortable to do so. I like to think I would have been on the right side of the moral law as I have been so in the past by making the right choices. But humans are funny. It doesn’t take much to derail them, such as the appeasing of vanity that a hair appointment promises. The wrong decision can be something as simple as mood or having had a bad day.

Do I do the kind, considerate, and moral thing and go find help for this woman? Or do I look the other way, chalk it up to one person (me) can’t change the plight of the human condition, and head to the train so I can make my appointment?

That’s what struck me as I peered out the train’s window, my impromptu mirror. Morality and kindness have no moods, no appropriate times, no convenience. It’s not just about writing a check to your favorite charity, voting for the right candidate or designing better health care systems. It sometimes means getting your hands dirty, quite literally. Indeed, it’s about getting out of your comfort zone to give up a little piece of yourself.

At the end of the day, it’s about being able to look yourself in the mirror.

Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Google Bookmarks

11 Comments. Leave new

Absolutely, we’ve had or we will have that moment of decision……will we do the right thing so we can look ourselves in the mirror or will we decide the “surface, the shallow” is more important. Given another opportunity, I bet you won’t hesitate to choose the mirror. Your conscience was pricked. It is something you haven’t forgotten. It changed you for life….congratulations!!

Reply

Aside from being a wonderfully written piece, this is deeply moving and makes me (as you clearly intended) take a look in the mirror and ask what I would have done in the same situation. Thank you for this post.

Reply
Dennis Cummings
June 14, 2016 5:55 pm

Dale
Thank you. With the busyness of everyday life, this kind of happening can pass us by so easily. This post reminds us to slow down and be willing to be inconvenienced, to be a “good Samaritan”. We never know how an extra minute or two of our time will impact another’s life.

Reply

Life always happens when you have other plans.

Reply

Dale, Thanks for that powerful and deep thought piece on our human condition in this fast paced world we have made for ourselves. You were disturbingly insightful as I placed myself momentarily in your shoes. The construction on which we build our daily lives- based on the bricks of our choices, time spent on ourselves versus others, and the people we touch to make a difference are not necessarily the abodes that will provide us the inner feeling of wellness and true success and purpose we all need. You nailed it, Dale, in that the trip to the mirror is made much easier if you are looking at what really counts. Thanks for your thought provoking blog. It made me slow down for a moment and think about swapping out a brick or two.

Reply

WOW! Wonderfully written. Thank you for the transparency, vulnerability and inspiration.

Reply
Barney Gaughan
June 15, 2016 1:48 pm

Thank you Dale for your excellent and thoughtful description of the plight of many unfortunate souls who as my mother would say, “but the grace of God there-go I.” Many of us who work in and or near larger urban areas often see this women daily on our commutes to and from work. I have often wondered what keeps these individuals stuck in their condition and struggle — is it the failure of our social welfare programs, is it a treatment / recovery / compliance issue, or simply lacking of an opportunity to extricate oneself from their plight with assistance from others.

Reply

I think the inner struggle you speak of rings true for many of us in that situation. Thanks for sharing your honesty and poignant prose.

Reply

Love this! In light of the recent Orlando tragedy, I have been contemplating how we as humans can show compassion for one another in order to minimize the desperation that these people with guns must be feeling.

Reply
Linda Deere
June 17, 2016 1:12 pm

This was extremely well written and very moving. These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked lest we totally lose our humanity. Would really like to see more articles like this.

Reply

What a truly inspirational article. It tugged at my own heartstrings, because it’s so aligned with the vision of transforming lives. This is a good thought provoking reminder about how easy it is to get caught up in our own needs and wants, and forgetting one of life’s truths, which is to look at others through the lenses of compassion. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *