I once knew a guy that didn’t have any mirrors in his house.
Not a single one.
We met back in my early twenties through a group of mutual friends. We had matching souls at the time; both struggling. Both cracked. Both trying desperately to close our hearts off from the world.
We spent a lot of time together that summer. Mostly in silence. Always in pain.
And we seldom smiled.
Because this wasn’t a relationship about love or laughter or lust. It was about giving company to our pain. It was about finding comfort in each other’s presence. It was about knowing that we didn’t have to hurt alone.
But we mattered to each other.
In the same way that the moon matters to the night.
We sat on rooftops and watched concerts. We sat in bars and drank beers. We sat along beaches and listened to waves.
We became the raft that kept us both afloat…the last bit of air that remained in our lungs.
And then there were the mirrors.
“I had some”, he once told me…“but they’re all broken now”.
People are so full of mysteries sometimes. So full of secrets they keep entirely to themselves. So full of truths that get turned into something else.
My friend also didn’t sleep very much.
He had a single mattress on the floor of his room and cheap Christmas lights hung from the tilted attic ceiling. Milk crates stood stacked in a corner filled with CDs, while heartbroken voices filled all of the spaces in between.
We would often just lie on that mattress…as the hours passed…waiting for daylight to set us free.
There was a darkness lurking inside my friend that kept him up at night.
That darkness was an accident that had happened many months earlier…before our paths even crossed and our eyes even met. An accident that would cause him to witness his best friend’s final breath. Among twisted wreckage…dripping blood…and sirens blarring…a haunting would commence.
“I couldn’t save him”, he once whispered to me…when his truth finally came pouring out.
It was four o’clock in the morning – under all those tiny Christmas lights.
“There was nothing I could do but watch him die.”
I was going through my own immense struggle at the time and the two of us spoke more words in that one night than we had in all the previous months combined.
I gently held his hand as the tears fell down my face and I watched him fall asleep that night. I slipped out a couple of hours later before he awoke and we never saw each other again.
It wasn’t really a painful separation. Instead, it felt more like a surrender. One of letting our emotions just wash us away.
My friend had endured some of the most unimaginable trauma. He lived through a moment that – God willing – most of us will never have to experience. But in our own way, so many of us are fighting to set something free. To unleash a beast that is holding us captive. To keep our selves from being held hostage.
And my friend thought the mirrors were the key to his freedom. He thought if he could stop seeing that face looking back at him; the face that he believed had failed that night…then he could turn his story into something different.
I always think of this when I struggle to face myself. Those mirrors. Because this is what our stories do to us; they reflect back to us the lives we live…the experiences we hold…the people we believe ourselves to be. Our stories become the image we project onto the world. And sometimes, those things can be really hard to face. So we run and we hide and we break all the mirrors. All so we don’t have to look ourselves in the eyes.
But right in the midst of all that running and hiding and breaking, we also forget.
We forget that, sometimes…those stories are just wrong.
Because sometimes, we hold on to stories that someone else wrote for us. Stories that we’ve blindly accepted as our own.
Maybe we got them from a parent or a bully or a person who didn’t love us back.
Maybe we got it from the burning metal that kept us pinned to our seat while our friend died next to us.
Every day, stories are being written for us. Every day, we’re being given a hundred different pages to bring together. Every day, the chapters are unfolding.
And, every day, we get to choose.
We get to look in the mirror and decide what that story is going to be.
Are we going to be the one who got rejected or the one who was brave enough to risk love in the first place? Are we going to be the one who failed or the one who at least tried? Are we going to be the one who isn’t good enough for some or the one who is more than enough for others?
We have a story to write.
I unexpectedly saw my friend two summers ago. I was sitting in my car at a red light and he was standing at the corner waiting to cross the street. He had a little boy sitting on his shoulders and a radiant woman was holding his hand.
As the light turned green, he caught a glimpse of me and he smiled. I smiled back. I don’t know that we had ever seen each other smile before. And in that single moment, we said everything that needed to be said.
He was okay. We both were.
Somewhere in that time, we had faced our reflection…stared ourselves in the eyes…and made something meaningful out what we saw.
He watched me drive off in the distance that day just like I had watched him fall asleep that night. I merged onto the highway and let a flood of emotion wash me away again. And this time it wasn’t pain or despair or helplessness that I felt.
This time it was different. Because this time, I understood…
It’s never the mirror that’s holding us back in life…it’s what we see when we look at it.