NEW YORK • What do you see whenever you look within the mirror?
My grandmother liked to ask me that query.
She was, by any measure, an entertaining girl.
One of her commonplace celebration tips was asking me, on the top of a night’s hilarity, if she had “ever told the story of the night your father was conceived”. Which, after all, she had.
But she had a severe aspect as effectively. I bear in mind her standing me on prime of a stool earlier than the toilet mirror after I was 10 or so, and asking me: “What do you see?”
And earlier than I might even reply with the plain, “Myself”, she’d lower me off with a agency declaration: “That’s not you.”
“It’s not?” I requested and she or he pointed to herself. “And that’s not me.”
Then she pointed to her coronary heart. “The real you is in here,” she mentioned.
And then, as if I had one way or the other missed her that means, she mentioned: “In your bosom.”
I thought of this story a few months in the past as I used to be driving again from Rochester after spending an evening on the college there, observing my son Sean’s improv troupe.
As I pulled over on the Massachusetts Turnpike at a relaxation cease, I observed a lady on the Burger King counter carrying a beautiful formal costume, her hair meticulously styled.
She wore heels and a pair of stockings with seams working up the again.
In one hand, she carried a protracted white cane. Because she was blind.
As I checked out her, I assumed what on reflection is one thing I am ashamed of: If I had been blind, I would not be carrying all that cr**.
I did not even have time to inform myself that what I used to be pondering was wrongheaded earlier than the girl raised her cell phone and, to finish my astonishment, took a selfie.
As I watched her, I puzzled about that query once more: Who is it we see once we look within the mirror? And once we share selfies – and I submit images of myself all day lengthy, I admit – what model of ourselves is it we’re sharing?
In the stranger’s case, a selfie represented, greater than anything, a piece of the creativeness.
Recently, I took half in a meditation apply pioneered by a colleague at Barnard, Tara Well, referred to as “mirror meditation”, which is just about what it seems like: You sit earlier than a mirror along with your face (and physique) at relaxation, with the deceptively easy objective of “being in the present moment with open awareness and having a kind intention towards yourself”.
When I first launched into this apply, I feared it could be too – effectively, I imagine the technical time period is “woo-woo”.
But it was a revelation. There earlier than me was my 59-year-old face: a vertical line on my brow, marionette traces round my mouth, small creases lining my lips. At first, I assumed, ugh, this isn’t the face of a teenager.
But then, because the session continued, I assumed – effectively, it is not a younger face, however it’s mine.
The traces on my brow are a consequence, partially, of contemplation; those round my eyes are from laughter; those round my mouth from my incessant behavior of whistling.
All these traces have made me myself and, largely, as I checked out them, I felt grateful for all of the years that have left their marks on my face.
“You’re lucky – that’s not the response most women have,” Dr Well advised me later.
“We typically use the mirror to take an observer’s perspective (what psychologists call self-objectification). We focus on how we look and often disregard how we feel.”
Her phrases put me in thoughts of that blind girl I noticed on the relaxation cease. There she was, in her darkish, fashionable world, consuming her Whopper Jr. Who was it she imagined she had photographed when she raised her digicam within the air?
My grandmother’s voice haunts me nonetheless: “That’s not you. And that’s not me.”
I acquired home after my lengthy drive that evening and crawled into mattress. I thought of my son Sean and the world that awaits him when he graduates this spring.
I assumed concerning the particular person I had been after I was his age and the particular person I have since develop into, these many many years later.
What did I see after I turned out the sunshine? I am unable to inform you, however I do know it is mine.
• The author is a professor of English at Barnard College and the creator of the novel, Long Black Veil.