A Reflection on What it Means to Look in the Mirror
It’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.