Looking in the mirror

“When a man of my age shaves his face in the morning,
Who is it that stares back and greets him?”

When I heard those lyrics for the first time, I stopped and paid attention. Who do I see when I look in the mirror?

“The ghost of his father long dead all these years?
Or the boy that he was, still wet in the ears?
Or the terrible sum of all of his fears,
In the eyes of this stranger who meets him?”

The truth is that I rarely consider the question, rarely look deeply.

“So his glance rarely strays from his chin or his jawline,
To face up to the truth of his soul,
It's the eyes he avoids so afraid to acknowledge,
Something strange, unexpected, out of control.”

For most of us, it’s easier to turn away than face the “truth of your soul.” And yet…

“There are times when a man needs to brave his reflection,
And face what he sees without fear,
It takes a man to accept his mortality,
Or be surprised by the presence of a tear.” 

When I look now, I still see the young boy, and the sum of my fears. I see the flaws and mistakes. I also see hope, and persistence. It’s only recently that I can look deeply and accept what I see.

Try it if you can. Quiet your mind, silencing the critics and the fans, and look in the mirror when no one else is watching. What do you see?


The lyrics are by Sting, from his original musical, “The Last Ship,” and he tells the story of writing it in his TED talk. He had battled for years with being unable to write songs, and it was only when he returned to where he was born, near a shipyard on the northeast coast of England, that things changed.

“It's ironic that the landscape I'd worked so hard to escape from, and the community that I'd more or less abandoned and exiled myself from should be the very landscape, the very community I would have to return to to find my missing muse.
And as soon as I did that, as soon as I decided to honor the community I came from and tell their story, that the songs started to come thick and fast.”

Here’s a recording of a live performance of the music. I listen to it often.