I had a weird dream the other night, in which I was staring into my bathroom mirror which was all steamed up (as it does, because I like a hot shower). What was particularly eerie was that no matter how long the window was open, or how much I wiped the glass, the mist wouldn’t clear and I just could not see my reflection.
Now, one doesn’t have to be Carl Jung or desirous of exploring the significance of mirrors in dreams, to see the symbolism of self in this. As a woman reaches middle age, she has been a daughter, mother, wife, sister and professional for many years, but when the home starts emptying, one is more and more alone with oneself. And that can be scary.
For so long I have been defined by my roles as wife and mother, that my own identity as a human has become shrouded by the mists of their identities. I need to redefine my purpose and find who I am again.
But we cannot actually ever de-link ourselves from our children, nor do I really want to. Did you know that cells from a child may migrate to a mother’s brain:
So we become a sort of chimera of every child we’ve carried. (No wonder my brain seems so crowded sometimes!) And these cells can also be passed onto their siblings. All of this shows that the mother-child and sibling bonds are incredibly strong. We carry them with us wherever we (and they) go. There is actually something comforting in that – if you can get past how creepy it is!
The other symbolism that struck me about my dream was that a hidden reflection can suggest that the self feels unseen. Sadly, that is such a common thing in women that I feel like a bit of a cliché.
Perhaps that’s why Jenny Joseph in her poem ‘Warning’ suggests that when [she] is old [she] will wear purple.’ It’s to stand out and be seen – like Queen Elizabeth of England who always bright colours, so people can spot her in a crowd. Of course that’s not really what it means though to feel ‘unseen.’ It means to feel invisible, unnoticed, a will o the wisp at best.
I say this without a hint of self-pity because in many ways we women do this to ourselves, quietly cleaning up after everyone, washing and packing away clothes; making sure the electricity meter is fed and the bins are emptied, the pets are fed and the cupboards fully stocked; stacking and emptying the dishwasher like a fairy presence (Okay I’m literally too noisy for people not to know when I’m doing dishes, but still you know what I mean.) This martyrdom becomes pointless when it is only your own mess and your feet echo on the tiles in the silent house. And we wonder, ‘And now what?’
At core I do know who I am though and I like focusing on others, especially when I am sad or hurt. We walk this earth together. I am excited to see whom I still have to meet along the way.
Maya Angelou says this:
“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”
Perhaps it is enough to continue putting one foot in front of the other, facing down hardship and loneliness with laughter. The children always come home anyway, and bring with them more young souls to love.
And a splash of colour is not a bad idea either. I think I’ll go with orange! That’ll show them.