Rush-hour traffic: my insecurities are a hall of mirrors, but I found beauty in Gmail

by kattiewampus

Another draft, this time from November 2012:

I sat in traffic for an hour this morning. When the rush-hour traffic is average, it takes me 45 minutes to get to work. If traffic is good, it only takes 30. When traffic is bad, it takes an hour. It was raining today – not heavily, but steadily. And for some reason, traffic is always the worst on Thursdays. Crawling along at 5 mph, watching the rain cloud up the windshield, there is a sort of monotonous futility that sinks in. The gloomy sky bleeds into my own dull thoughts; the ever-present voice in my head holds me captive and it questions me and it mocks me and it haunts me. I find myself taking it in turns to be angry, and then bitter, and then sad. And sometimes I feel nothing at all.

I’ve been reflecting on my insecurities lately. You know, it’s funny – the things that make us doubt ourselves. And the things we look to as sources of validation. Or maybe we didn’t realize they were sources of validation until we perceived that validation to be denied to us. I recently experienced this under very silly circumstances: I caught myself feeling defensive of my own abilities in a given area after a friend complimented someone else on their abilities in that same area. It was a childish reaction, but it exposed a deeper insecurity. When I recognized the reaction for what it was, it triggered a chain reaction: the fact that I could be so insecure over such a basic, silly thing in turn made me feel even more insecure. I was insecure about my insecurities.

Have you ever been in a room where two mirrors reflect each other? In the master bedroom of our house, the mirror over the bathroom sink faces the mirrored closet doors. There is a wall cabinet that also has a mirrored door. If you open that door and angle it just right, the reflection of the two mirrors facing each other creates a “hall of mirrors” effect. I’m sure you’ve seen something similar before. As a child, I thought it was a fun optical illusion to make, and it was fascinating to see my own face reflected ad infinitum down the hallway of mirrors.

My insecurities create a similar effect. They reflect each other like so many mirrors and I see my own reflection in an endless hall of mirrors: thousands of iterations of my own shortcomings staring back at me, sneering at me, glaring at me. I want to shatter all of the mirrors, but even if I broke them, the shards would still tell the story of a girl imprisoned by her own self-sabotaging fear. It is in these moments that the emotional claustrophobia kicks in. How can I separate myself from all of these reflections?

I don’t know the answer. But today, in the midst of my rain-soaked, ever-reflected insecurities, I found beauty. I was creating a Gmail account for work and I discovered the option of custom theme backgrounds. I was scrolling through the top-choice pictures that different users had submitted for background themes. In the middle of my drab, artificially lit office cubicle, I found myself staring at light and color. At beautiful photographs that captured something deeper than the mere image. You know that feeling you get when you are in the presence of something exquisitely and deeply beautiful? Like something is uncurling inside your chest – like a flower whose petals gently unfold in response to the sun?

Gmail is an unusual place to find such beauty. But today, I sat scrolling through their photographs. And somewhere in my chest, I felt the warmth of the sun. And it was reflected on the hall of mirrors, so that instead of seeing my insecurities a thousand times, I saw only light.