“Can I help?” he asked. His eager hazelnut eyes almost failed to betray his haggard soul. His attire, however, clearly gave away that it was he who needed help. On his right shoe was a hole, growing slowly to the size of his granddaughter’s soft palm. His gloves were so worn that you could see his thick, callused fingers peeking through.
The sun had forgotten to shine on New York on this particular morning as folks were recovering from last night’s winter storm. Rumors had it that such brutal cold hadn’t turned up in a century. While snow blowers were going berserk on this long road, a man and woman buried knee-deep in snow caught his eye. They were working with shovels, hauling the frozen snow bit by bit.
“Can I help?” he asked a second time. At a closer distance, he realized the couple was in their fifties, just like him. So used to living alongside indifferent neighbors, they didn’t seem to hear him the first time. This time, the woman looked up. The man smiled and gently took the shovel from her tired grip.
The woman’s husband curiously placed his hand on the man’s arm, “Friend, how much will you take?” On this icy morning, the man could think of nothing but the promise of returning home with warm milk and bread. “Whatever you wish,” he answered and began to shovel.
Thirty Years Earlier–France
They had been married for seven years, as deeply in love as when they had first been introduced to each other. Each year when she left for two weeks to see her family, he sent her text messages filled with longing. Shouldn’t she feel happy, she often wondered to herself. A loving husband, a relaxing job, a house the size of a mansion. And yet. Lately, her worried parents and nosy relatives made sure she didn’t forget what was missing and that she was now 32.
To celebrate their anniversary, the couple had been planning a trip to Paris for months. He had purchased the latest camera in the market to capture the glow she had lost over the years. He understood what it meant to miss what you never had. What further ached him was to helplessly watch her in pain. He hoped the promised city of love would do its magic.
And so they strolled through the Louvre, watched the Eiffel Tower at midnight, and even made the journey to see the ornate Palace of Versailles. Little did he know that the moment they were both yearning for would happen by the calm waters under Pont Neuf.
It was their last morning in Paris. Nothing was planned for this day, except what she had been waiting to share with him. What she had kept from everyone just to keep out the evil eye. As they sat on a wooden bench holding hands, watching the reflection of the clear sky and the bridge, she opened her mouth. No words fell out. Instead, an excited gasp. He turned toward her, confused. How could she explain to him the new life within her, its first kick? She placed his hand gently on her belly.
Every so often, I re-read the Harry Potter series. This time, I discovered something that I hadn’t paid much attention to. The Mirror of Erised. I’d always dismissed it as a glamorous name for a mirror. Until this winter break. If you reverse the spelling of Erised, you’ve found The Mirror of Desire! Perhaps, I’m the only one who never realized this, but this chain of thought prompted the current article. For those unfamiliar with the Mirror of Erised, some background: The Headmaster Dumbledore explains to Harry,
“It shows us more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts…The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is.”
Different people long to fulfill different desires at different stages of their lives. How many people on earth today would look into the Mirror of Erised and see only themselves? How worthwhile is it to pursue what’s missing without an appreciation of what we have? With much self-reflection, I’ll end with a picture I took exactly a year ago from Thich Nhat Hanh’s you are here: