“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
In the late 1980s, attempting to supplement household income, juggle the needs of young children, and going back to school, I cleaned houses. It was the most flexible of choices, and it was a privilege to get to know people like Viola and Allan in their retirement years. It proved to be good arrangement for both of us. Their little black pug, Rudy, would follow me around, or confront me nose to nose as I washed the kitchen floor. Allan would say, “The dog hasn’t seen anything move that fast all week!” Time has moved on, and I cherish this picture taken there one day with Viola. It makes me reflect on someone who has been part of my life, and on the different roles I have played.
A friend told me that her little granddaughter, catching sight of herself in a mirror, cooed and laughed at the image. That same week, my mother’s nursing home posted a photo of a resident overcome with a fit of giggles when she saw herself in a mirror. I’m beginning to relate. At times, I can’t recognize the aging person who looks back at me either. Especially when, on the inside, I can still feel like a girl of twelve.
There comes a time when reflection needs to be on a less superficial level. Pity the poor beauty who clings desperately to the appearance of youth, like the fairy tale queen who constantly seeks reassurance from her mirror that she is still the most fair.
We are reflected in far more than our mirror. The world around us, the plays acted in the theatre, the faces of our children, reveal our humanity. What young parent isn’t convicted by the little one who has clearly mirrored her behaviour? And it feels nightmarish when we find ourselves lost in a hall of distorted mirrors, confused about who we are.
Memories can be helpful then, because they also are reflections. As time goes on, they continue to yield new insights, like a diamond’s facets catch the sunlight when you turn it. They are great gifts, even when what you see isn’t always flattering. You learn to accept who you are, even with imperfections, to look yourself in the eye. What is now free to emerge is a kind of inner beauty that you see sometimes in older people, a joie de vivre that is so attractive. Not necessarily because life has been easy, but that there’s been a choice to reflect on truth and goodness. Over time, our faces become accurate reflections of our thoughts.
The Bible is a mirror that uncompromisingly shows us our nature. But it also points to what God considers timeless, “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” And it speaks to the necessity of looking in the right mirror to know our true worth in God’s eyes.
“Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true,
whatever is noble,
whatever is right,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable—
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
think about such things.” Phillippians 4:8