It’s all too easy to get down on ourselves.

Sometimes, we look in the mirror and see only negatives. We see every mistake, every time we didn’t take courage. We see so many ways that we could improve, but we can’t see how far we’ve come. We can’t see how much we have to offer now, in this moment.

When I get in that state of mind, I think about my friend Leo*. During my time at L’Arche**, I served as Leo’s one-on-one accompanier. I was responsible for everything from his toothpaste to his bank account balance.

Springfield, IL

Springfield, 2008

And Leo’s accompanier typically travels with him on an annual Elderhostel vacation, too. So in 2008, we flew to Springfield, Illinois, the “Land of Lincoln”. For five days, it was just the two of us.

We did the best we could.

Sometimes, I’d hide in the bathroom for privacy. Sometimes, Leo would sneak chocolate bars from the bus driver when he thought I wasn’t looking.

But one particular moment shines: when Leo saw the best in me, even though I couldn’t see it myself.


We were seated at our usual breakfast table, sipping coffee and reviewing our schedule. Leo loved talking to Joe, our waiter, and so he didn’t notice that his voice was too loud.

He didn’t see that sometimes, he was putting Joe in a difficult position by trying to be his new best friend. Joe was friendly and polite, but he had other tables to serve, and Leo always wanted his attention.

I began to dread breakfast. I was trying to let Leo be Leo, even as I (gently) coached him on social graces. It was a tricky balance to strike.

If you have kids, or if you’ve cared for someone who needs support in social situations, then you can relate. It can be tough to know when to step in, and when to back off. It can be exhausting to do this dance, to facilitate connections for someone else.

If we’re not careful, we start believing that we have to control situations, that we can never miss a beat. We walk around with our shoulders up to our ears, misaligned with worry.


On the morning in question, Joe and Leo were relaxed, joking around. Joe brought coffee, and Leo read the paper. For them, all was well. I, on the other hand, was tired and stressed, waiting for something to go wrong. I prayed, silently, “Help!”

And help came, but not in the form I expected.

We are all smiles.

Apropos of nothing, Leo said, “You and Joe have characteristics in common.” His speech can be hard to understand at times; he had to repeat himself before I finally got it.

“And what characteristics are those?” I asked, trying for a playful tone. I imagined he’d say something like, “You’re both single!” and try and set us up. My stomach tightened.

But what Leo said was, “You mean you didn’t notice? Both your … temperaments … is all smiles.”

He said this as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, then went back to his paper. All I could say was, “Wow. Leo, thank you.”


Here I was, a veritable storm cloud of frustration and control, and Leo was telling me that I was sunshine.

He wasn’t judging me based on my insecurities and fears. He was looking at me and seeing my best self: all smiles. He reminded me who I really am: a song of joy.

His comment changed my attitude for the rest of the trip … for the rest of my life, really.

If you’re feeling down, reach out to someone who will hold up a different, kinder mirror. And when someone you love is struggling, share what you see when you look at them.

When you behold others with love, they have an opportunity to see what they hardly dared to hope for …

Their true selves, reflected in your eyes.


Who has held up ‘a different mirror’ for you? Join the conversation in the comments!

**L’Arche (French for ‘The Ark’) is a faith-based non-profit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I worked with the DC community for 5 years.

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  1. R March 4, 2013 at 5:16 PM - Reply

    <3 you *are* sunshine.

  2. Jill Winski March 4, 2013 at 6:17 PM - Reply

    This is such a wonderful post! What this brought to mind for me was a dance class I took many years ago in college. I was not really a “dancer”, but many others in the class were. I was so nervous each class that I thought I must be bringing everyone down; I felt that insecure. When the teacher handed us evaluations mid-semester, I was petrified to look at mine. When I finally read it, she had written that I had bright energy and was a graceful dancer. Nothing negative at all. She was seeing me through a completely different mirror (and I love that way of putting it!).

    Thanks for this great reframe! 🙂 BTW, this is the first time I’ve commented, but I love reading your articles. There is so much kindness in them.

    • Caroline McGraw March 4, 2013 at 7:27 PM - Reply

      What a great story, Jill! I love it. You captured perfectly that “What if I’m not good enough?” feeling, and the relief that comes from seeing yourself with new eyes.

      And I’m thrilled to hear that you love reading the articles here at A Wish Come Clear! Kindness is exactly what I hope to share, so thank you for that affirmation. 🙂

  3. mary March 4, 2013 at 6:21 PM - Reply

    Aaah Caroline! Once again you’ve made me smile and cry! I needed to read this today…and the one from JANUARY (“song of joy”) I LOVE how you have links ! Referring to that post: I’m a singer and know the POWER OF MUSIC and use it with a client with dementia. My mom has dementia too and dad loves to sing (and get strangers to sing too!) I’ve forwarded that to them.
    THANK YOU for using the POWER OF WORDS to heal and bring smiles…Across the country and across time. Love Mary

    PS Any chance you’ll keep coming north after your speaking gig the 15th? You’re always welcome at Stillwaters…

    • Caroline McGraw March 4, 2013 at 7:29 PM - Reply

      Mary, that gives me such joy to hear. Thank you! Sending love and light your way as you care for your parents in this time.
      And alas, I won’t be in the DC area this month, but will definitely keep you posted as to our next trip! Thank you for extending the welcome, as always.

  4. cameron March 5, 2013 at 6:40 AM - Reply

    I loved this, thank you!

    • Caroline McGraw March 5, 2013 at 4:29 PM - Reply

      Thank you, Cameron! Thrilled to hear that, and great to see you here too!

  5. Metod March 5, 2013 at 5:32 PM - Reply

    Oh Caroline…this post brought some needed warmth into this (still) land of ice. We are undeniably strange beings…focusing on the negative in us, rather than embracing our gifts. The mirror on the wall hardly helps…often we need those other loving eyes as a reminder of our true worth.

    If I may share a little episode…I work as a caregiver and also am responsible for administrating the medication to our residents. As I was giving the pills to one of the residents recently, she looked at me with an increased interest and said:
    Wow, I just noticed…you got gray hair!!!
    It took me by surprise! But she said it with such an enthusiasm that it sounded really like a compliment. And I took it as a compliment of course…now our friendship is even stronger because of this gray hair bond 🙂

    Thank you for all your wonderful posts and keeping us reminded what’s important in life.


    • Caroline McGraw March 5, 2013 at 5:51 PM - Reply

      Your story made me laugh – thank you very much for sharing, Metod! And how wonderful that your gray hair could strengthen the bond between you. 😉
      Thank you for being you, and all your marvelous support and encouragement. I’m so glad to have connected with you!

  6. Donna March 5, 2013 at 8:38 PM - Reply

    Wonderfully said, Caroline! It reminds me of a stressful end to a church trip to Spain, with Willie having a melt down on the airplane. We were all trying to hold onto him and to bring some calm into the agitation- and were exhausted with the efforts. We felt like such failures, unable to control the situation. Later, at the baggage claim, another passenger came up to Dad and said how he admired his efforts and was amazed at his perserverance!
    We cannot control situations! We can just act out of love and give our best.
    Thank you!

    • Caroline McGraw March 5, 2013 at 8:50 PM - Reply

      That’s beautiful, Mom – thank you.
      What a difficult (yet also, perfect) story to share. Thank you for teaching me to act out of love and give my best, always. <3

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