I took Olivia and Leah into the Hall of Mirrors at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. Lots of fun, uncertainty, confusion, a bump or two on the nose and ultimately a deeply human experience. We stumbled our way through the mirror matrix, losing and finding our way step by step. Everyone we met was laughing and as confused as we were. “If we see ourselves,” I told the girls, “we have to go another way.”
Little did I realize how profound a metaphor that would be. At one point, I came face to face with a fellow maze traveler. She was laughing and smiling. So was I. She was disoriented. So was I. Without thinking I exclaimed, “Are you me? Am I you?” I felt as if I had ceased to exist knowing that her face was reflecting to me exactly how I felt. It was quite surreal to feel that I’d lost my sense of self only to regain in the face of another. Eventually the girls and I found our way out.
The memory of meeting that woman, and my own confusion over where I ended and she began, stays with me. Isn’t that the crux of so much philosophical musing? Hillel’s do-unto-others admonishment? The Holy Grail of pursuing peace and loving our neighbors as ourselves? How do we see the other in ourself? How do we see ourself in the other?
Perhaps the world is nothing but a grand hall of mirrors. We stumble along trying to find the way out of our confusion. We bump up against our own foibles, limitations, pain and missteps again and again until we (hopefully) take a new path. There is surely less laughter in such halls.
What if we could cultivate that sense of fuzzy boundaries? What if we could meet eye to eye, forgetting ourselves while recognizing in the other a similar sense of disorientation? What if we observed ourselves convinced we are on the right path, only to crash into our own strictures again and again?
I have no ready answers. This drawer in the curio cabinet is named Questions, after all.
photo by Debra Darvick