Insights and Outbursts: Looking back on the friend in the mirror
Insights and Outbursts
“Some people can make you feel better just by entering a room — and others just by leaving.”
— “The friend in your mirror: A search for self-discovery” (Edward Cunningham, 1975)
I’m amazed at the way a little Hallmark book I read almost 40 years ago still fascinates me with its common-sense spirituality and wisdom.
I bought it as a gift, intrigued by the title, and liked it so much that I copied it before giving it away.
The book starts with an invitation: “Speak gently to yourself. Speak freely in praise of all you are. Speak clearly with pride in all you’ve been. Speak bravely with hope for all you may become. Find in yourself the powers that only you can overcome, the promises that only you can keep.”
It then takes you back to your childhood, urging you to “Look deeply into the mirror of your life and discover the very special person that only you can be … Try to recapture those greening days of newborn dreams and desires, fears and first-times … What were the scenes of your greatest joys … your deepest sadnesses? “What were the events that touched you most profoundly — the experiences that helped to shape the patterns of your mind?”
I understand now what a therapeutic experience that book was and share it freely with friends and acquaintances in the hope that it will encourage others to appreciate the “friend” in their mirrors.
Friendship has always been important in my life, as a child and teenager in New York City, a young adult in the Air Force in Texas and Mississippi, the years I spent as a police officer, attending college in New York and at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., early retirement to enter the Congregation of the Cenacle, and after leaving the novitiate, living in Boston for five years, driving a cab during the day and attending graduate school at Northeastern University at night, working as a Park Ranger in the Charlestown Navy Yard, and moving to Rockport in 1986.
As I look back on my life, I am filled with gratitude for all of it, thankful for all the people who enriched my life, including the ones I didn’t always appreciate at the time.
As the Hallmark book puts it, “Speak honestly to yourself of people you know, recalling the kind ones who taught you lessons in love, the thoughtless ones who made you feel the bitterness of their own self-doubt … and the very human ones who may have done both … You choose to say “yes!” to the joys of the past, but “no!” to the sadness … to cherish the gifts of kindness that can never be forgotten and let go of the hurts that can never be forgiven … to let the laughter keep echoing in your heart, but once and for all, to dry the tears.”
That wisdom helped me realize that the most painful parts of life, the events I never would have chosen, were often a source of growth as I became conscious of strengths and weaknesses in myself that allow me to understand and forgive similar qualities in others.
“Speak proudly to yourself of lessons learned … emerging from the world of memory into the world of here and now. Measure the distance between those two worlds by the treasures you’ve collected along the way…and by the burdens you’ve carried.”
Some of the “treasures” I’ve collected along the way are friends, including Elderhostel pals, kindred spirits who enjoy outdoor activities as much as I do as well as the people I meet on spiritual retreats.
Whether I’m skiing down a mountain or sitting in silence in a chapel, I enjoy life now more than ever. The “burdens” were few and I survived, thanks to an unshakeable faith in a God who loves me unconditionally, as well as supportive family members and friends.
After reflecting on the past, the final paragraph takes us into the future: “So on you will grow … encouraging your own achievements and improving them, counseling your own decisions and standing behind them .. always taking the time to speak gently to yourself with the patience, the kindness, the compassion of a close and trusted friend … the friend in your mirror.”
Eileen Ford lives in Rockport and is a regular Times columnist. Courtesy of www.gloucestertimes.com