“A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Finally, the Christmas tree is decorated with small white lights and lots of ornaments that have followed us through many years of life. The ornament that always catches my eye is the star, each arm made of a mirror. It’s one of my favorite ornaments because it reflects the light that is right in front of it, and sometimes reflects another ornament or two. That’s what reflection is all about: throwing or casting back (sound, heat, or light) without absorbing it. In this case, it is casting back light, and it is just beautiful. Mirrors reflect and they can draw us in. Thoreau’s mirror is a lake, and having grown up near several lakes I understand his words because the still water on a lake really is like a mirror of all around it. Have you ever just stood beside that body of water and stared into it? I agree that it can allow the viewer to measure the depth of his own nature.
Unfortunately, it is often not the depth of our own nature that we typically want to measure. It is so much easier to measure the depth of his nature or hers. The mirror that casts back anything is easiest to view when it is at an angle that reflects anyone else, especially if it might reflect a flaw. Why do we often assume the reflection will be negative? Does it make us uncomfortable to see positive attributes, ours or someone else’s? We have negatives and positives, and both deserve our attention.
Whatever you are doing — completing the holiday decorating, finishing a project, finishing a ball game, coming to the end of a job. graduating from one level of education to the next, coming to the end of a life, or as everyone is right now coming to the end of the year, there are a couple of questions that seem to knock on each of our doors:
- Am I finishing well?
- Have my values been reflected in the choices I’ve made?
For example: The holiday decorating isn’t all it was in my younger years when the kids were running around the house, but I’m pleased with it, and I suppose the value reflected is that meaningful things matter to me more than beautiful things.
Take a minute in your reflecting to consider all of the things you’ve done well.
- You’ve taken time to compliment others, allowing them to take credit for a job well done that you could have used to build your own ego.
- You’ve taken time to listen to someone else’s bad day when you were teetering on tears because of your own troubles.
- You’ve donated clothing, food, or time to a charity without being rewarded for what you did.
- You’ve helped a child learn to read when you could have been home doing a load of laundry.
- You’ve driven someone to an appointment when you could have been driving to the mall to shop.
- You’ve shared your story of survival to encourage someone else when you could have kept it to yourself, not exposing you to possible judgment or ridicule.
You have mattered in someone else’s life. Your mirror has a beautiful reflection showing! Still, there is your other side that is flawed and causes you to walk quickly past the mirror, uncomfortable with what you might see. There is always an opposite: we know cold because we’ve experienced heat, we know sweet because we’ve experienced sour, we know the joy of a shining reputation because we’ve experienced the pain of one that was tarnished, and we know joy because we’ve known sadness. Not acknowledging your own bad choices and unkind words or actions won’t make the people you’ve wounded hurt any less any more than avoiding a mirror will keep the wrinkles around your eyes or in your collar from existing.
We treat a physical wound with a salve that will help it heal, and we can treat people we’ve hurt with a kind word or gesture that will speed the healing of their feelings. Maybe you have some amends to make. Maybe you have some words to speak, some time to give, some debts to repay.
When you find yourself looking into the mirror the next time you are heading out the door, check for more than pet hair on your slacks or food in your teeth; check for what is reflecting from your eyes. And the next time you find yourself staring at the beautiful expanse of water in a lake, you just might behold your very nature, both your flaws and your successes.
It’s the end of the year, end of the job, end of the line, and it’s never too late to polish the image that is reflected to all around you and never too soon to begin recognizing the good that you are doing. It’s never too late to send the note, make the phone call, buy the cup of coffee for someone your reflected choices or words have hurt. Own your successes for the good that they are, own your flaws for the lessons they can teach you, give others the love and respect they deserve, and choose today to finish well.