Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

The Man In Many Mirrors: Sunday musings…12/11/22

We see ourselves reflected in so many more mirrors than the one before which we brush our teeth every morning. We are, and have ever been, many things to many people. Indeed, we have also always been many things to ourselves. How, when, and where we look in the various mirrors that surround us likely determines which version of ourselves we see.

Still, rare is the mirror that reflects all of who we feel we really are.

Yesterday was mostly spent in the company of strangers. A travel day on the back end of a short weekend spent with many of my closest professional colleagues. Among the masses in the airport I was reflected in the most basic, banal version of that which I am: a middle-aged white male of little note, moving confidently through an insignificant slice of travel. No indication of my destination. Nothing to denote whether I was inbound or out. Just one more body moving through space. Any mirrors present were too far away to provide enough focus for anyone to see beyond the curiosity of a bright orange vest.

And by the same token, too far away to see what version of myself might be reflected in those around me.

My weekend meeting, on the other hand, was another story. There is a tiny little group in my world made of people who do what I do professionally. More so, the longer-tenured members of this group make up my circle of professional friends, people with whom I would go our of my way to see and spend time with if they were within 100 miles of my house. Among the many younger newcomers invited to join us there are a few with whom I am also forming friendships that feel quite comfortable, quite real, if you will.

I shared a car with one of the lovely younger eye doctors from the airport to our hotel. Himani and I are forging a very nice friendship around things that are outside of our shared profession. During our drive we talked about our marriages, how they came to be, and how they developed in the context of our larger families. I learned a new word, propinquity, which means the effect of proximity. One of the execs on the industry side of my profession gave me a ride back to the airport. Arthur and I were airlifting out early to get home in time for the back end of the family weekends. We also talked a little about family and marriage. My conversations with Himani and Arthur about marriage and family showed us that we had more in common than our profession despite being decades apart in age, with vastly different propinquity at work in how our own little families came to be. My reflection in their faces was one of genuine interest, kindness, and care.

While not a complete picture of who I think I am, my reflection in our growing friendships is based on parts of me that are real; they result from a genuine effort to be better and I was delighted to see them there.

Esquire had a cover article on Bruce Springsteen that I was slowly working through when we had a couple of our grandchildren staying with us for the weekend. It was one that spent quite a bit of time on Springsteen’s lifelong quest to figure out who he really is. He has a funny little quirk. Each time the writer asks a question that requires a deeper bit of self-awareness Springsteen looks into a mirror in his office before he answers. It’s as if he needs to be reminded that he is answering as Bruce, or supposed do be answering as Bruce, not BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. Almost like he is parsing the question “who am I when it’s just me looking in the mirror” before each answer.

Making this an even bigger challenge, the whole “who am I” thing keeps changing. The longer we live the more versions of ourselves emerge. Some of them even real! Returning for a moment to our weekend with the little ones, “Papi” really is a different but altogether real version of who I am at this moment in life. For sure I am no less frustratable when dealing with the blocking and tackling involved in raising little ones, and I probably don’t really have all that much more patience than I did as “Dad”. Oh no. I feel all of that now, too. The difference is that for whatever reason I have now essentially embraced these and other feelings as an essential part of an activity that I truly want to engage in. Today I acknowledge their presence and experience rather than avoid them as I am sure I did as a younger man.

Who does this make me now? Who am I after years of trying to be kinder and more present in my friendships? Springsteen had a famously fraught relationship with a father who never really accepted who he, Springsteen, was as a child and a young adult. For the record there was nothing of the sort in my relationship with my Dad at any stage in the lives we lived together. As a father himself Springsteen learned to be present in the lives of his kids, and to at least try to accept them for who they are at any given moment in their lives. No matter how well or how poorly we may be at either or both of those with our kids, grandchildren give us a Mulligan. A do-over if you will, at least if you are fortunate enough to have a chance to be in their lives.

Many years ago I wrote about a long weekend spent in the mountains of Colorado in the company of friends at that time. Adult weekend we called it. What I recall was a rare feeling that for pretty much the whole weekend I felt like I was exactly who I thought I was when I looked in the mirror. At least the good parts of who I thought I was back then. Pretty cool weekend. Interestingly it was a pretty easy weekend, too. No posing. No trying to anticipate what others expected, wanted, or needed. I just woke up and gave everyone whatever felt like the best part of me available at a given moment. Though I had no idea of the changes that were about to occur in my life I had a pretty good idea of who I was that weekend.

Now? Ha! I can’t even figure out what the mirror even is right now. Is it truly the mirror over my sink, the one that reminds me of all the miles I’ve traveled and hours I’ve flown in the memory lines of my face? Could be. Probably always has been. Still, it may never have really been that at all. The mirror in the mountains may have been my friends, and Beth, and how we were, all together. Today it may be the face of the children, or of Beth, as we made our way through that hectic weekend with the grandchildren.

The face of my young friends Himani and Arthur in the car, and the faces of the friends I’ve known so much longer who were there with me this weekend and who have been there through many of my different “reflections”.

Or it’s all of those. That’s probably it. All of them. The mirror in the bathroom is the measure of where we are at the moment. It’s a good thing to know who you are at any given time. There are mirrors all around us that show us where we are going (like the airport), or perhaps where we should be trying to go. I really would like to be enough for my Littles, but there are times when it will be someone else who they will need to be their “enough”. My role there is to be ready if it’s ever my turn. Their faces tell me if I’ve learned enough patience, or if I’m as “in the moment” as I think I am. The mirrors that are the faces of my friends this weekend tell me that I am becoming a better friend each time we see each other. That I may be someone with whom they would like to have a new friendship. None of the mirrors lie to you, at least they don’t if you have your eyes open.

As the years have gone by I’ve become better at knowing who I am at any given moment when I look in the mirror.  Who I still need to become is there too, if I look hard enough.

One Response to “The Man In Many Mirrors: Sunday musings…12/11/22”

  1. December 12th, 2022 at 11:36 pm

    Himani says:

    This is so beautiful, Darrell. So happy to have shared that car ride with you! 💛

Leave a Reply