As heard on KERA-FM's ongoing series "I Believe"
I believe in mirrors. As a blind person, I have not seen myself in one for more than 35 years. I still believe in mirrors. Disability cloaks a person in invisibility. Being looked at, even stared at, and not seen feels mirror-like. When seeking your reflection in a looking glass, do you ever think to examine the shiny surface, its shape or frame instead of focusing solely on yourself? What does it look like? What is it made of? What is beautiful about it? How does it differ from others that appear similar but are very different? What is its provenance?
Most people seek their own reflection to find flaws, admire their attractiveness or worry about what others will see. Image seekers may focus on what they expect to see, missing what truly manifests itself in the silvery glass. As a mirror, I believe I am just like you. Though I am blind, I am just another person, not what you think you see in me. If you only see inability or feel disgust and want to flee, please consider that I am a mirror reflecting your fear of how you might be if you were to lose your physical vision. I know because before I lost my sight I did the same thing. Blindness taught me to believe in mirrors.
After navigating professional complexes for years, I recently experienced an unsettling event. Last December, I approached a woman who I had encountered before. She will raise her voice when I am about 15 to 20 feet away and say, “I am here … don’t run into me.” No one has found it necessary to get my attention quite this way before. My anger about her actions built over time but I said nothing until this day. I said, “I am sorry if I frighten you.” She replied, “I’m not afraid of you … I don’t want you to run me over!” Then, as we proceeded down the hall, she said, “We should put a bell on you so we can know where you are.” I was enraged until I remembered that mirrors don’t have to be angry. For an instant, I caught a glimpse of how I used to be in her reaction.
If she could only see what a mirror sees when it looks at her. If only she could see me as a person and know that what repels her about me is her fear of her own finitude. If she were disabled, she would not become someone’s pet that would need a bell to be found. She would not be demoted from human to a sub-ordinate being meriting no further common civility or respect. She would maintain plentiful ability, remain a sentient being that loves and hurts and laughs and cries and hopes and achieves and contributes to a better world and lives life fully. We walked on in silence as I thought, how blessed a mirror is to no longer have to look at life with eyes. Mirrors see much that others cannot, do not or will not see. I also remembered how difficult it is to run into a mirror in which you do not like what you find. I believe in mirrors.
Copyright, Mary Ewing Rixford, M.A., LMFT, LPC May 2008.