Last night, a friend and I talked about what it means to “love oneself.” I explained that one can learn to care for one’s body through diet and exercise or for one’s mind through study and meditation. But when these practices become routine, is it not easy to start looking past oneself again and not give oneself the active tenderness the term “love” implies?  My friend proposed an active practice: we could perhaps think of personal “faults”—varicose veins, for instance—and then imagine them on the body of a loved one instead. When tenderness emerges—as it inevitably does for many of us, since we cherish others more than we cherish ourselves—we can turn that tenderness upon the same part of ourselves.

Today, reading Lisel Mueller’s collection Second Language, I was startled by the poem “Identical Twins,” which references a permanent, secret “other” inside us all. Here’s the piece:

When they walk past me in the park
I shiver, as if two black cats
had crossed my path. Uncanny,
as if I were seeing things.
As if I were seeing two of me,
myself and the one in the mirror,
who must also be the one
I talk to when I’m alone.
The one I call “you,” who loves me
better than any lover.
It is as though these sisters,
who tie their shoes in their same double bows
and bite their fingernails
down to the same horizon
existed to expose
twinlessness as a sham,
to let us know they know
about our secret:
the lost, illicit other
kept under lock and key
in the last room of the mind.

These days, riding the subway
to work and back, I notice
that the passengers move their lips
ever so slightly. I watch them
lean into themselves
as if toward a voice,
and then turn to the window
to search the backlit face
in the black, speeding mirror.

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