Mirror, mirror...

Last month at cslto was all about how unique each of us is, but despite this quality of “specialness” we each possess, we’re also one in the same. We all experience fear, love, anger, happiness – and each one of us is perfectly imperfect, with qualities that inspire, qualities that irritate, and those that remind us that we belong to a greater whole—that we belong to each other.

A couple of years back, I wrote about an experience in my local supermarket one day when the woman in front of me was about $0.80 short for her grocery order. I instantly took some change from my purse and handed it to her with a smile. Her body recoiled as she refused and I realized I’d offended her. I did offer her another compassionate look and reassured her to take it but she ended up removing some bananas from her shopping so she could afford to pay the bill without my help. I can understand how she felt and I respect that of course.

But truthfully, the first thing I felt was saddened. This situation showed my feeling of connection to her and her feeling of disconnection to me. I’m just a fellow neighbour who wanted to help her in some small way. I mean, who hasn’t been there? I sure have been in similar situations and would be appreciative if someone stepped up to help me in my time time of need.

But the real question is, would I?

This exchange has crossed my time several times since it happened and the woman in this story has shown me things about myself I needed to see, accept and possibly change.

We are mirrors of one another and one the main factors that inspired me to want to help the woman is that I saw myself in her. I have run short of money on occasion for various reasons and I can relate to her. But the other mirror she held up to me is that even though I like to think of my feeling of connectedness to others as a two-way street, it’s not really.

Theoretically, I would of course appreciate an offer of help from another. But would I accept the help? Often not, because we live in a culture of increasing separateness. We don’t want to burden other people. We feel embarassed by what we perceive to be our failures, but what are really just the qualities that make us human, and that make us the same.

We’re further alienated by the facade of perfection that other people portray, and we increase that alienation by wanting to portray the same facade—“I’m fine”, we think. “I don’t need help, I’m always fine, I will manage.” Yes, most of us do manage, but why should we need to when we have each other?

I realized a few weeks later when I found myself on the receiving end of a stranger’s offer of monetary help that I too automatically and politely declined but thinking back on the woman in the supermarket who offered me the mirror I needed to see, I accepted his help.

I do continue to struggle to accept help sometimes but I have become more consciously aware of this fear within me, and I mindfully try to accept help and offer help from my fellow humans with an equal degree of generosity.

This is just one example of many, but one of the gifts we offer one another as humans is that we can show each other our positive and negative qualities—and above all, we can see ourselves in others, because we are, after all, one in the same.

Try this: Think of someone you relate to—what about yourself do you see in them? Is it something you like? Something you dislike? Now think of someone whose energy gets under your skin in the worst way possible; what is it about them you can’t stand, and why does it bother you so much?