I am in love with The Time Traveler's Wife. It is, by far, one of the best novels I've read in a long time. For whatever reason, I'd been hesitant to pick up a copy, but when I saw the preview for the upcoming movie starring one of my favorite actors, Rachel McAdams, I knew I had to read the book. And I'm so glad that I made that decision. I picked up a copy of the book at Target last week and, as I was on my way back to the office, sitting at a red light, I cracked open the book for a quick skim. The first thing I came across -- on the very first page -- was this:
"Love After Love"
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.
When I read this, I knew I would love the book. When the light finally turned green, I had a hard time putting the book down. As I pulled back into the parking lot at work, I sighed, wishing I could grab the book and go sit under a tree and read the whole thing. I have so many wonderful things to say about the book itself, but for this post I'm going to focus on the poem above. When I read the poem, I think about self love and what it means to really sit with yourself, be in love with yourself, after the love of another is gone. The poem makes me think about reflections, what we're seeing when we look in the mirror and how much of that is tied to what we expect others to see in us. When you look in the mirror, do you smile at yourself? Are you happy to see yourself? Are you as happy to see yourself as you would be see another? Or as another would be to see you?
Our relationships with ourselves are the longest, most important relationships we will have, but much do we really focus on that person in the mirror? I don't know about you, but I spend a lot of time focusing on other people, especially when it comes to the idea of love. I spend time analyzing and thinking and over-thinking situations, instead of really just sitting down with myself and realizing that the love I have for myself should be my focus. I should, as the poem suggests, greet myself with elation, with kindness, with love. How many of us really do that? How many of us really greet and treat ourselves with love? While reading this poem leaves me with a sad taste in my mouth, the thought of a love lost, it also reminds me that I have a life of my own, a life that is completely removed from any love I've ever had. My life is mine to feast on, to enjoy, to love, and it is still a complete life without the love letters, the photographs, the others.
Of course, the love I've experienced from others has a great impact on my life and I would most likely not be the person I am today without the love I've experienced. However, the poem is a great reminder to me that I can sit down and enjoy my life all by myself. I believe that many of us ignore ourselves, put ourselves second to others. We look in the mirror and see not what we see, but what others see. We think in terms of others (and how can we not?...we are social creatures after all), and, in doing so, often neglect ourselves. What if we were to put as much dedication and heartfelt love into ourselves as we do to others? What would life be like then? Loving ourselves fully doesn't mean neglecting to love others or acting selfishly. It means sharing the love you give to others with yourself.
What I realized when I read this poem is that you don't have to wait until love has ended to love yourself. If you're in a relationship or a marriage, love yourself now. If you're single, love yourself now. Love, I believe, is limitless. It's not as if you have a ration of love and you have to dole it out carefully. You can love yourself as much as you want while still having plenty of love to go around. You can wake up every day and love yourself as much as you possibly can and still love all of the people around you. That's the amazing thing about love! It's not something that comes in limited quantities. There is plenty of love in you to share both with yourself and others.
There have been times when I've looked at myself in the mirror and wondered, "Who are you?" There have been times when I looked at myself and saw a stranger. I didn't know myself because I didn't love myself. While I've felt like I've known others like the back of my hand, I can't say that I've always felt that way about myself. It's not easy sometimes to know and love who you are. It's a lot easier to accept the bad qualities of others than it is to accept those of yourself, which is maybe one of the reasons it's so hard for us to love ourselves consistently. Now that I'm getting to know myself better, I'm learning to love who I am -- the good and the bad -- more and more. I cannot say that I'm always smiling at myself in the mirror, so overjoyed to see myself, but I'm making progress.
More and more I'm happier with the person I am. More and more I'm loving myself, which, actually, makes it a lot easier to love others. The more comfortable I am with myself, the more comfortable I am with other people. The more I accept myself, the more I can accept others. See how it works? It sounds terribly cliche, but it's true. The way I feel about myself is often reflected out to the world and the happier I am with who I am, the happier I appear to the world. I used to put up a wall (and, in many ways, I still do -- but I'm working on it!), but I try to be more open, I try to let people see me. In order for others to see me, when I look into the mirror, I have to see me. I cannot look at my reflection wondering, "What is it that others see?" Instead, I must ask myself, "What do I see?" When I really look at myself, really truly look, I'm often surprised by how much respect and love I have for myself. I'm taken aback by how much I do love myself, deep down, even though I don't always treat myself the way that I should.
I'm probably not the best one to be giving this advice, but I think we should all do what we can to take down the walls between ourselves and our reflections. We should look at ourselves in the mirror and see what's there -- not what we think should be there, not what we think others see there. We should love ourselves. We should, at all times, greet ourselves with love. Don't hide behind a mirror, behind what you think you should be. Instead, love yourself. Next time you look in the mirror, greet yourself as you would a loved one. Next time you catch a glimpse of yourself, dispel those negative thoughts that come creeping in by greeting yourself with love.
For more on loving yourself, you might want to check out some of these posts: