The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
(Love after Love: Derek Walcott)
It’s a strange phenomenon in our modern life that most of us spend our time being dissatisfied or embarrassed with who we are. It seems as if we have heard stories from so many teachers and parents and friends about the things we have done wrong. It gets so bad that if someone compliments us, our first thought is often to wonder what they want from us!
Research shows that in order for us to do our best thinking and work we need at least five appreciations for every criticism we receive. So a great starting point is for each of us to start a revolution and go out there and try to live by that rule – give five appreciations for every criticism. Look for the good in what everyone around us does – at home and at work – and take the time to acknowledge what they have done. The change in quality of our relationships is astonishing.
But I think that this might just be the easy part – giving appreciation to others. The greater challenge might just be to turn things around and silence those voices of judgment in our own heads and start appreciating ourselves. I found this to be a really difficult task, but the poem gives us a pointer to attitude and starting place.
Derek Walcott invites each one of us to take down the photographs and re-visit our life, feasting on what you have achieved already. Bring together all the pieces of your autobiography and look at them as a good news story as to how you have travelled the path that brings you to this particular moment in time.
This is the you that stands in front of the mirror – the you that inhabits your body. This is the you that is going out into the world to make a success of your life in the way that you (and no-one else) chooses to define success.
I’ve started doing this and, for the first time have started to appreciate what it took for the thin asthmatic youngster that I was in primary school to refuse to accept those limitations when I went to high school. I took everyone on at what should have been my weakest feature – physical strength – and by the time I was 20, I had become one of the fastest junior 400 metre hurdlers in the world!
I notice that in the past I tell this story by focusing on the might-have-been of my competing at the Olympics if South Africa had not been expelled that year and how this demotivated me so that, in any case, I just missed the qualification time and …
But the story is actually one of an asthmatic child finding enormous strength of character, determination and guts to aim high and achieve, Telling this story helps me realise that I still have those characteristics very much present in me and ready for use – even if I can no longer jump a hurdle.
The important thing is to hold this particular story close and precious to me and be willing to share this aspect of my life as a good news story without getting caught up in the negative obsession of stories of disappointment and failure as some sort of proof that I am not proud or arrogant.
My invitation to each reader is to start the process of at least 5 appreciations to one criticism on yourself and enjoy the changing perspective – particularly in these challenging post-Covid, current-powerless-Eskom pandemic days.
What would the world be like if we were each able to draw, with elation, on the moments of significant strength and courage. that have been part an integral part of our lives?