I still remember the exact moment when I met someone exactly like me. Life doesn’t often give us a chance to see ourselves in what I call the fleshy mirror, so when it does I look deeply.
It was difficult at first, as are all things that require effort. But to see what others see, how could I resist such an opportunity? I would have to turn in my curious bear card if I didn’t at least let my glance linger.
And linger it did. I still laugh at the battles between two willful beasts born within months of each other, or as one of friends described it then, two iron rabbits meeting the immovable force in each other.
But I also saw a shy withdrawn child who hid in corners at social gatherings. I saw how others misunderstood and called him standoffish, aloof, snobbish. Like me he had few social skills other than the mandatory ones that kept us out of jail, guaranteed we could somewhat work for others, and drew people to us the same way many are drawn to the impossible task of taming cats.
We helped each other take the first step in learning to walk through the halls of a perilous universe. He was finally able to perform without his fingers shaking on the strings so badly he couldn’t play. I was finally able to read in public without having my voice choke in fear halfway through.
Over the years I met other fleshy mirrors and some I glanced at briefly, while others I stared into like a scrying stone. With each one I experienced the same feeling of recognition, the same sense that here was someone who understood. And the relief that I was not alone in who I was.
It took many more years for me to develop the confidence and verbal skills to talk to others. I was and still am far more comfortable writing than I am talking. I text far more often than I talk. But again that’s because many of my friends began as my fleshy mirrors. We interact as we are, not as we wish we were, nor how others want us to be.
During the pandemic solitude, we began to text less and talk more. I don’t know if it was the isolation, the introspection that grew from it, or the need to hear a human voice, but the connection to my fleshy mirrors deepened. Our conversations grew longer, more personal, more honest.
I formed deeper bonds with those I once shared only pieces of myself with in the past. They responded in kind. I suspect I’m not the only one who has been healed and changed by this. I suspect there are many “out there” who could have written those words as well. I suspect none of us are done yet. With anything.
That’s why I get so personal at times with this blog. I know the value of fleshy mirrors. I know how just one person understanding who you are, what you feel, where you’ve been, makes a difference. There is a special solace in receiving the understanding of another. It’s a blessing. A sacrament. A gift.
In spite of the terms I use, I’ve never been a religious person, nor do I see such a thing in my future. I detest dogma. But they serve to communicate my true beliefs. I believe in the power of love. I believe love is stronger than hate. I believe love feeds you and hate feeds on you.
The fleshy mirror who taught me these things was a man who walked gently on the earth because it was nature’s skin and he didn’t want to bruise it. I was frightened of him at first. I thought him odd beyond my understanding. I was suspicious of his intent and expected him to whip out his version of the bible at any moment and wave it at me threateningly.
But he did none of this. He simply taught me to value what he reflected back, that we both, at the core of who we were, believed the connection to nature and the connection to other human beings was the same. He accepted my atheism while expanding my connection to a spirituality that didn’t feel like fingers on a chalkboard like too many of the others often did.
When I write I remember what I learned from him. I write to establish that connection with someone else, that moment of looking into the fleshy mirror with someone who needs to feel less alone.
We’re all wounded children. That is what every fleshy mirror has reflected back to me. The worst experiences we’ve had are also the most universal. As my friend said, if you’re going to be the change in the world, someone has to take the first step. Why not you?
“I live in my house as I live inside my skin: I know more beautiful, more ample, more sturdy and more picturesque skins: but it would seem to me unnatural to exchange them for mine.” Primo Levi
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