The bane and blessing of aging is the growing collection of rearview mirrors. The mirrors are precious because they hold the sweet memories of our baby’s touch and the first kiss of our beloved. The mirrors are also painful as they remind us of things we’d rather forget and distort events in macabre ways. And with each passing year of our lives, they accumulate. As I careen through the second half of life, their weight is unmistakable.
While one might expect their weight to be an anchor which slows this second half of life, these mirrors function more often as the weight that speeds the downhill run. I am aware at points that I am racing in a failed attempt to stay ahead of the mirrors. What I wish my heart knew is that no matter how fast or slow I go, the mirror remains anchored in my side view. Always.
What does change is my awareness of these mirrors and thereby their influence on my life. While I cannot change a single event of my past nor the unsettling truth that more of my life is behind than before, I do continually face choices about how I engage with that past. I can deny the past and be haunted by it or I can welcome the perspective and allow it to be information that guides my choices.
Five years ago this week I made the decision to stop drinking and my carefully constructed life began to unravel. Then I was a woman married to a man with two teenage children; now I am a woman married to a woman with an empty nest. The most recent loss is that of my professional identity as I retire from my “life’s work” as a pastor. What is behind me seems clear, but what lies in front of me is not yet discernable. In seasons like this one, the invitation of the rearview mirrors is particularly seductive because the mirrors offer a clarity not available looking forward.
While living life in the rearview mirror is deadly, the mirrors themselves can offer invaluable lessons. As I consider the unraveling of my life, I can see the powerful promise that it is in the well tilled soil that the most beautiful new life emerges. It is in the places where I’ve loosed my grip most completely that the gains have swelled far beyond the losses. If I dare to face the mirrors with the deepest pain, I am aware that the seat in which I sit today bears witness to the trustworthiness of the road ahead. Neither running from nor living in the rearview mirrors, they provide context for the gratitude that is mine today.
A way watered with tears is the one lined with flowers. As I look today in the admittedly hefty pile of broken glass, I see bourgeoning bouquets in their reflection. And it is very good.