Sometimes, we look in the mirror and see only negatives. We see every mistake, every time we didn’t take courage. We see so many ways that we could improve, but we can’t see how far we’ve come. We can’t see how much we have to offer now, in this moment.
When I get in that state of mind, I think about my friend Leo*. During my time at L’Arche**, I served as Leo’s one-on-one accompanier. I was responsible for everything from his toothpaste to his bank account balance.
And Leo’s accompanier typically travels with him on an annual Elderhostel vacation, too. So in 2008, we flew to Springfield, Illinois, the “Land of Lincoln”. For five days, it was just the two of us.
We did the best we could.
Sometimes, I’d hide in the bathroom for privacy. Sometimes, Leo would sneak chocolate bars from the bus driver when he thought I wasn’t looking.
But one particular moment shines: when Leo saw the best in me, even though I couldn’t see it myself.
We were seated at our usual breakfast table, sipping coffee and reviewing our schedule. Leo loved talking to Joe, our waiter, and so he didn’t notice that his voice was too loud.
He didn’t see that sometimes, he was putting Joe in a difficult position by trying to be his new best friend. Joe was friendly and polite, but he had other tables to serve, and Leo always wanted his attention.
I began to dread breakfast. I was trying to let Leo be Leo, even as I (gently) coached him on social graces. It was a tricky balance to strike.
If you have kids, or if you’ve cared for someone who needs support in social situations, then you can relate. It can be tough to know when to step in, and when to back off. It can be exhausting to do this dance, to facilitate connections for someone else.
If we’re not careful, we start believing that we have to control situations, that we can never miss a beat. We walk around with our shoulders up to our ears, misaligned with worry.
On the morning in question, Joe and Leo were relaxed, joking around. Joe brought coffee, and Leo read the paper. For them, all was well. I, on the other hand, was tired and stressed, waiting for something to go wrong. I prayed, silently, “Help!”
And help came, but not in the form I expected.
We are all smiles.
Apropos of nothing, Leo said, “You and Joe have characteristics in common.” His speech can be hard to understand at times; he had to repeat himself before I finally got it.
“And what characteristics are those?” I asked, trying for a playful tone. I imagined he’d say something like, “You’re both single!” and try and set us up. My stomach tightened.
But what Leo said was, “You mean you didn’t notice? Both your … temperaments … is all smiles.”
He said this as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, then went back to his paper. All I could say was, “Wow. Leo, thank you.”
Here I was, a veritable storm cloud of frustration and control, and Leo was telling me that I was sunshine.
He wasn’t judging me based on my insecurities and fears. He was looking at me and seeing my best self: all smiles. He reminded me who I really am: a song of joy.
His comment changed my attitude for the rest of the trip … for the rest of my life, really.
If you’re feeling down, reach out to someone who will hold up a different, kinder mirror. And when someone you love is struggling, share what you see when you look at them.
When you behold others with love, they have an opportunity to see what they hardly dared to hope for …
Their true selves, reflected in your eyes.
Who has held up ‘a different mirror’ for you? Join the conversation in the comments!
Fed up with an ‘impossible’ person? Tired of a situation that may never change?