Walking to work down Union Street a man strides out from the hairdresser and, as he passes the hi-fi store, immediately turns and looks at his own reflection. Apparently dissatisfied, he rounds the corner and crosses the road where he can try another window, the one in the cafe behind which two builders sit eating wide plates of fried breakfast and drinking giant mugs of tea.
The haircut man is short enough for me to walk behind him staring at the neatly trimmed thatch and the round patch of baldness on his crown.
My client tells me about a presentation she did at work.
“When I finished people came up to me and said how much they’d enjoyed it, how I’d seemed really natural and came across as myself.”
“What was that like?” I ask
“It was amazing. I was shocked.”
“You were surprised at the way people saw you?”
Later someone tells me about how he characterised himself as a Nazi just so he could push away the advances of a girl his friend had tried to set him up with.
“Sounds like you weren’t leaving anything to chance,” I say.
“I’m not really a Nazi,” he tells me, to make sure I realise.
“What would it have been like to be yourself and just see what happened?” I ask.
“Awkward,” he tells me.
“Maybe it’s because pretending to be someone else is much safer than risking the rejection which might come if you dare to be yourself?” I suggest.
It makes me think of a man we see in the park on most days we walk there. The dogs always rush up to him because they know he gives them treats. Sometimes my sister’s dog steals the breakfast bar he carries in his pocket and eats the whole thing, paper and all.
We moan about the man to one another because you shouldn’t feed other people’s dogs, although he clearly loves them all and gets great joy from it.
Recently I learned that he has brought up all of his grandchildren single-handedly because his daughter died when she was in her thirties. He is a giver and he is being himself. Since then I’ve seen him differently.
As I sift through a pile of papers that I have been carrying around for months I come across a poem called “There’s A Hole In My Sidewalk” which my therapist gave me more than a decade ago. It’s about how growth takes us through stages of ignorance and rejection of ourselves and ultimately if we are fortunate and willing to do the work, towards an acceptance of our flaws and imperfections.
I think about the man with the haircut and how, as he looks at himself in the windows, he can see the neat and tidy trim but not the bald patch. I think about how it’s already enough that he knows it is there but still enjoys his own reflection anyway.
Talking of judging people because of what we see Episode 2 of our new podcast “Sideways” is out now. In it, we’re talking about kebabs and homelessness. You can find it on Spotify, iTunes or here.