Mother Teresa said that some people come into your life as blessings, and others come into your life as lessons. I think through the chapters of my story; the towering wilderness, the polished sloping hills, the impossible walls that nevertheless I scaled. For a moment I’m nearly proud of myself, but then I remember that it’s better to observe than to judge. I think of the individuals that have appeared on the road, the companions who walked with me, those for whom I quickly abandoned my own trail, blinded by their brilliance, and those who carried me along the way. I see that those with whom I’ve been angry for doing me wrong, have also taught me invaluable lessons. These realizations help me to release the grudges I didn’t realize I had been holding. I feel that anger drop away from me like stones from my hands, in a moment of awe. I thank god that I could learn.

Perhaps it is cliche that I have reached an age in which reflection is common. Whitman, for one example, wrote “Song of Myself” at about this age. These days, I’m seeing every person I meet as a mirror. It’s sudden and automatic; I can’t not see myself in others. In fact, I see myself in those from the past, too. I see them along the way as I have passed from body to body, while my atoms replace themselves and my dead cells fall away, and I grow, and learn. My heart breaks and swells. It is all so unimaginably incredible. It seems like a dream. There are so many coincidences, so many “others” who seem to be unique manifestations of that same self I partake of. I see their faults as my own, and smile to myself with lighthearted recognition, thinking I do that too. I admire their strength and ingenuity and compassion. Again I hear Whitman’s words.

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you…

Over the holidays, I took a break to go to the movies. I saw the latest film in the Star Wars Series, The Last Jedi. There’s a scene in which the heroine, Rhea, enters a dark cave below the Jedi Temple and encounters a mirror. Longing for an explanation of her identity and her past, she asks to see her parents, who have passed away. Two figures approach murkily on the other side of the glass. Gradually, the beings merge and come into focus, and the mirror reveals an infinite line of her own body in single file. Thus in the search for identity, she finds that there is no one but the self. Mystified, she holds up one hand and snaps her fingers. The fingers don’t snap simultaneously, but one at a time, in an ordered progression down the line, suggesting (in a very basic way) the infinite relationship of memory, learning, and progress of the one self.

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This is an example of very Eastern thinking indeed, but there is also a wealth of science behind it. I recently read a study which posited that even plants had the capacity for memory and learning. Charles Darwin suspected this too, despairing on his deathbed to not have enough time to learn why the plants in his window twisted themselves toward the sun.

What I’m getting at with all this is that while I was noticing myself in others, I noticed lots of other people going through the same growing pains as I was, last year. Considering what I witnessed for myself and for my friends last year, and for the world at large, I conclude that 2017 was a year of learning and growth (and devastating mistakes!), more so than other years. A deep divide between polar opposites became clearly visible within countries, and between countries too. I feel a tangible, visible result ringing in the air already. I think that it will begin to manifest in 2018 with a reset button, eventually yielding something like a global stock market crash, a biblical jubilee, and societal revolution, in which the mighty song of the soul crumbles the edifices, and we come together to rebuild the towers of our grandfathers into more natural strongholds for the inhabitants of earth. We shall see on how grand a scale it manifests.

I tell my music students when they make mistakes, to never despair, because making a mistake is the best way to learn. It may have messy consequences, but the synapses that form during our chagrin are indeed clean. We can then strive to always make new mistakes, being compassionate with ourselves rather than conforming to impossible expectations of perfection, and compassionate with the mistakes others, since they are all beings so similar to ourselves.

Because of this, I celebrate the whole of us, of everything on the planet, in that mirror. I celebrate our journey together, our sweat and laughter, shouts and howls, tears and blood. I celebrate them because I believe our polar opposites are going to flip, and pull us together stronger than ever. It is love that unites us, and unite we will. This is what I have seen in the mirror.

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