In the basement of a building on Wilmington’s East Side there is a modestly sized bathroom that also includes a shower stall, a laundry washer and dryer—and a mirror.
It is a small mirror with a big task. Like all mirrors, this one dutifully gathers and reflects rays of light from all available sources.
But this mirror has a more important duty—a sacred role—considering its unique location: The Saint Patrick’s Center, an organization serving one of Delaware’s most disadvantaged communities.
- It reflects the face of a middle-aged man without a place to sleep at night or to shower at morning; dignified by the ability to be clean and to launder the clothing from his back;
- It reflects the face of a young woman without resources to launder the scant clothing that she and her child wear most every day; dignified by a clean, pressed blouse and a “new,” gently-used pair of shoes provided by the clothing bank upstairs;
- It reflects the faces of a multigenerational family engaged in a daily struggle to find food enough for tomorrow’s supper; dignified by two full bags of groceries provided by the food bank upstairs—without inquiry and without judgment;
- And it reflects the faces of the elderly who struggle at the same time for both companionship and independence; dignified by a daily congregate meal with and among familiar faces, followed by transportation to their own grocery store and their own doctor’s office.
Indeed, this is a mirror that both physically reflects and metaphorically represents the kernel of hope and dignity that exists deep in the eyes and souls of the homeless, the impoverished, the hungry and the elderly.
For many of us, we look at ourselves as reflected in our bathroom mirror every day without actually engaging in much self-reflection. We inventory our imperfections, we note the onset of blemishes, we check our smiles, but perhaps we fail too often to look deep into our own eyes and reflect on our own lives.
In a short story by the author Robert Fulgham he recounts a metaphor for the meaning of life, as discovered by a boy’s intrepid desire to reflect light from a small mirror into dark places—crawlspaces, closets and crevasses: “I came to understand that I am not the light, nor the source of the light. But that light – truth, understanding, knowledge – is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.…I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of this world – into the black places in the hearts of men – and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise.”
Tomorrow – before the rush of morning emails and Facebook updates – consider standing a moment quietly in front of your mirror, the world’s first and most enduring technology for self-consciousness and self-contemplation.
Observe in your reflection—and reflect in your observation—the miracle that is your life and you will recognize the kernel of hope and dignity that resides deep inside of each of us that begs, nay demands, to be shared with others.
Volunteer and Serve. Dedicate yourself in some meaningful way every day to nourish the hungry and serve the poor with food, and hope and dignity. And Happy Saint Patrick’s Day….
Michael W. McDermott is an attorney and Chairman of the Board of the St. Patrick’s Center on King Street in Wilmington, Delaware. www.stpatrickscenter.org. The St. Patrick’s Center serves a hot meal 364 days each year, runs a food bank and a clothing bank, provides transportation for the elderly and infirm, and coordinates meals on wheels delivery on Wilmington’s East Side.