Every now and again we have to stop what we are doing for a moment and examine ourselves. If we are writers, we tend to do it every fifteen minutes or so. You have to expose the soul to the light of day for a moment and take a look with eyes wide open, prepared to see the worst… but also open to seeing beauty where you may not have seen it before.
So what do I see when I look in the mirror? More darkening age spots, more patches of psoriasis with increasingly red and irritated potential infections. Drooping eyes that have lost their sparkle and now darken with blue melancholy. I see a man falling down. Falling slowly, but falling never-the-less. It happens to everybody with age. I can no longer do the job I loved for 31 years. I am no longer the goofy Reluctant Rabbit with the big pencil in the front of the classroom, telling stories and making learning happen.
Once I was a big deal to little people. Once I created magical experiences involving books and great authors, poems and great poets… and I taught little people how to write and master big words. I mattered like a big frog in a small pond, able to make the biggest splash in that particular pond. I was the froggiest. But I haven’t drawn myself as a frog yet.
Of course, I was never as big as that other Michael. He made a really big splash in a really big pond. He was a really big frog.
He and I have a lot in common. Not far off in age. We got married about the same time. Both had three kids, two boys and a girl. Both were associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses at one point. Both of us never really grew up. He had Peter Pan Syndrome, and I stayed in school my whole working life.
And everybody has a dark side, in counterpoint to their better angels. I’m not entirely sure what my dark side entails. Being a grouch? A diabetic? A closet nudist? But I have one. I trot it out to make fun of it constantly.
But as I was feeling sorry for myself, being forced by the city to remove the pool, becoming a bankrupt poor guy thanks to Bank of America, and generally in such ill health that I feel like I am wearing a lead suit all the time, I stumbled across one of those life-affirming moments. A former student asked me on Facebook to post a picture of myself so he could see how I was doing. I posted this picture.
Yep, the man in the mirror is definitely me. I got loads of complements and howdys from former students, former colleagues, a former grade school classmate, and my Aunt Wilma. I heard from people I care about and they reaffirmed that they still care about me, even though some of them I haven’t seen in more years than I am willing to admit. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror to see what needs to be changed. Sometimes you just need to see the precious few things that were always good and haven’t changed. It is a process worth the effort.