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t h e   m i r r o r

b y   A n d r e w   L o v a t t

looking in the three-quarter mirror he saw himself and remembered another time when he looked almost exactly the same. equal pose. same intense gaze. a replica of an earlier mirror view forty two years ago when he was on a school holiday. then, he had taken a black and white photograph, head slightly bent forward as he concentrated on the little image in the box camera viewfinder. there he was, eleven years old looking in the mirror. self seeing self. hair turned up at the front and jacket collar flipped up too. blond, sunburnt, eyes steely blue. a quizzical half smile. lips betraying a subtle sadness. all at the same time.

like a right of passage, this old black and white photo had captured the movement from childhood into the uncertain and wonderfully unknown grown up future. and this later reflection, though not captured in more than the mind’s eye, was also a rite of passage. from an uncertain past to a new future, which although unknown in detail shined like the light from the window on that childhood photo. a hint of smile peeked in the eyes. that he remembered from the old photograph. as if the child knew that as sad as life might show itself to be, it was also beautiful and wonderous like a mystery undisturbed by the moment’s uncertainty. perhaps the boy understood the spirit of the story. somewhere in the middle of it all, one knows that the true things are simple.

the mirror light winked. he could see his grandfather, karl, picking up his banjo and playing a tune just for him. how this honored and touched his heart. and that other photograph, also black and white, of he and karl. himself grinning like a schoolboy at karl. his love beaming out of innocent eyes, cherishing the old man with the wrinkled face and dusty toupee. and to this day, he felt a movement inside just recollecting his memories of karl. a gentle, sweet soul.

it is sad, in the course of things, that fear enters and steals the joy of genuinely felt life. steals those moments, or at least their memories, in a saturnian deconstruction of fact and fiction. as if all that we are, the most mysterious of elements, can ever be reduced to a formula or an absolute solution. moments like those with karl stand out for their simple directness. at that moment he and karl were in the same shared place and time. eyes and hearts open, seeing each other as they be.

innocence is an organic protector of simplicity. in our youngest years something within us keeps the supposed reality of the surrounding people and their hugely complicated drama at a proper distance. we know that it isn’t what it pretends itself to be. our young world is full of forgetfulness and special living moments. the grown ups seem engrossed and trapped in a neverending story of human confusion. lost to the moment. imprisoned in cause and effect. the whys and wherefores of how things got to be the way they are, and what needs to be done to make it as it should be. all the should be’s. all the wishes to make it other than it is. all the drama and no moments, or less of them, to smell the cherished wonder of self and other.

looking in the mirror again, he saw another splinter. remembered standing in the pub as the bright sunlight streamed in and made a halo round his mother’s red hair. she was sitting with uncle bill, deep in heated discussion, and she looked up and smiled so sweetly, telling him to take his drink outside while they talked. he sensed the hidden story, how it might be that the reason he recognized bill so strongly was that he did know him. had been raised by him and his wife, when his mother had been struck with tb and kept in hospital following his birth. many years later his eldest sister told him that she felt sure he’d been a twin, as she’d overheard the parents discussing the other’s death. and the long separation from his mother made sense. that she had taken so, and taken so long to recover. it gave meaning to his own ineffable loss too.

how wonderfully mysterious it is that not only images and aromas but angles and distortions carry with us over a lifetime, and when re-met bring forth a feast of similar memories. just this angle of look in the mirror allowed a stream of lightnesses to enter. he came back to the present and saw the wry, melancholic smile reflecting back to his perception. one little mirror in a small hotel room on the isle of wight, and now this one in glanmire, co cork. perhaps these mirrors knew each other, like secret windows into other and forgotten splinters of our lives.

the sunlight winked in reflection and he saw again...


22.06.02 : glanmire, co cork
copyright © 2003 andrew lovatt

photo: another mirror, by s. mcdermott

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