A New Year’s Meditation on the Proper Use of a Rearview Mirror

Janus by Sally Wiener Grotta
Daniel Grota & Sally Wiener Grotta as Janus

When I created this image of Daniel and me as Janus (the Roman god of beginnings) for our 2013 New Year’s newsletter, it had been a toss-up whose face I would set to look back on the previous year and who would be looking forward to the future. But now that Daniel has been gone six years, I see an unintended symbolism in having him nestled in the back of my mind, forming an essential part of who I am.

In many ways, the past defines and shapes us, helping to prepare us for whatever awaits us beyond today. I wonder what that means vis-à-vis our future as we move forward into the year 2022, given that the unrelenting rollercoaster of crises that was 2020 and 2021 is at our backs?

That question filled my mind today, when Shayna and I embarked on our afternoon walk along the dirt road on the other side of our stream. It’s a stroll that Daniel and I had shared innumerable times, inevitably with a dog leading the way. At one of the many bends in the road, the image of a rearview mirror came rushing at me, and I couldn’t shake it. Soon it was joined in my mind’s eye by the picture of Daniel and me as Janus.

I’m a visual writer. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I’m also a photographer and artist. (See What Photography Has Taught Me about Writing… and Vice Versa). So I’ve learned to pay attention to the strange juxtapositions of unrelated images that my mind conjures up. On good days, when it happens, I will rush to the computer, place fingers on keyboard and see where my unconscious is trying to lead me. Many a story or essay has been spawned by this process. Today, it generated a seed of a response to my question about moving forward into 2022.

Looking back on the past two years, it’s hard to shake a sense of naked vulnerability. Nearly everyone I know feels like they’re walking on shaky ground, uncertain about what newDaniel Grotta'eye's in rearview mirror catastrophe will upend our world next. Me too sometimes, despite my reputation for being an optimist. But I keep thinking about that rearview mirror.

I love driving, especially on unfamiliar winding roads. It’s an adventure of discovery, where every bend might offer a mountain trail to be explored, a town filled with charming shops and a gem of a museum, or an ocean view stretching as far as the eye can see. Whenever I drive, I’m careful to frequently glance at the rearview mirror, to see if a car or truck is behind me, perhaps speeding and anxious to pass me. It’s information I need to guide my moment-to-moment decisions as a driver, such as whether to stay in my lane, change to the passing lane, or even pull over. But I don’t dare focus on the rearview mirror for too long, because I must keep my eyes on the road if I want to arrive at my destination safely.

We have 12 months ahead of us that are uncertain as the future always is. Yes, like that rearview mirror, our experiences of the horrific past two years will inform and hopefully will guide us. And remembering the lessons we’ve learned can help us remain aware and awake to what might creep up on us as we move forward. But I hope to keep my eyes focused on where the road is leading me, because I don’t want to miss whatever adventure lies ahead just around the next bend or the one after that. Well, that’s my current plan.


1 comment on “A New Year’s Meditation on the Proper Use of a Rearview Mirror

  • Scott E Hancock says:

    Time and events, both those of our own instigation as well as those imposed upon us from external forces, may cause or initiate both the highs and lows of our span of experiences, and thus with one face looking back at our past, and another looking forward to our future may give us the greatest perspective yet for appreciation of all that life has to give us. As the old saw goes, ‘You have to fully know the depths before you can fully appreciate the heights.’


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