A Man in a Mirror

photo credit: an untrained eye via photopin cc

photo credit: an untrained eye via photopin cc

He stood there, looking in the thrift store mirror, staring. He was trying on a used suit. Out of date. Too big. I couldn’t take my eyes off his left hand.

He stood, staring at the reflection. His left hand grabbed at the thrift store tag, keeping it from his mirror view, helping him get a glimpse of what could be. The suit didn’t fit. But I think for some reason I knew it had to.

My friend and I were shopping–no real purpose, perusing deals but no deals really needed to be found. I vividly recall finding a set of wooden salad bowls and I declared it right then and there that it would be my first purchase for my new life come graduation. I was moving to California to pursue an invisible thread that pulled at me and these salad bowls marked the first tangible step in the many that would lead me there.

Wooden salad bowls. A quarter a piece.

But this man, this man. He weighed that suit through his eyes and it cost plenty. He stood there for a disconcertingly long time, focused beyond the cloth that hung off his body. Something important was happening between those eyes and that mirror. Something. He held that tag in that left hand as a man might rattle dice before risking it all.

Our frivolity started to feel like an invasion of sacred space and I pulled away from my friend and I watched. I carried my bowls in my arms, he stretched out his to check the length of his sleeves.

We all came into that one store for something. I have no idea what invisible thread he was pursuing or grabbing onto at that moment. For me, the bowls, they were a start of something exciting. An inexpensive gamble, a minor investment. Nothing, really, in the grand scheme of things.

For him, that suit, I couldn’t help but think it meant more. The tag, hidden, didn’t leave his hand. His eyes, focused, didn’t leave the mirror. I wish I had done something important before I left–paid for his suit, left a few bills, something–but such is the clarity of looking backward. I didn’t think of it at the time but I knew I was struck down, like a quick flash of lightning, by this man on a random Saturday. I also knew I didn’t have any idea why.

My friend and I slowly left the store, me glancing over my shoulder, our simple purchases in bags. We moved onto the rest of our day in a city that beckoned us to be young and fun and carefree. But I quietly tucked the image of that man away, as if he were a secret just for me, a snapshot that would linger awhile.

Why do I still remember that man? Why does he still pull at my heart? Why, if I think of him hiding a thrift store tag in his left hand while studying a suit that would never fit, do tears come to my eyes? Fifteen years later. A man from Milwaukee that I never knew.

Why? Why?

Why not?

We’re given these snapshots for a reason, I believe. To learn. To see. To realize that this big world we live in is made up of individual people, struggling, trying, growing, living. We are not just a group of anonymous breathing creatures that coexist together, taking up our fair share of oxygen and soil. We are images of our Creator, beating hearts, who love and lose, who buy salad bowls and try on suits. We are people who need jobs, who have failed, who have succeeded, who are trying to turn it around, are trying to point everything to Him.

We need to realize we are images of our Creator. We are meant to love Him and love them.

We are meant to live with our eyes open. And it starts with looking at one person at a time. In our homes. In our neighborhoods. In our schools. In our thrift stores in Milwaukee.

All this time later the man still holds sacred space in my head. I hope his suit served him well that day and every day after that, for whatever purpose held his gaze in that mirror.

He’s one of my snapshots. An image, a blessing.