My wife showed me the mirror.
“Shall I toss it?”
I looked at the brass Art Nouveau frame, just enough Erte to grab my eye.
“No way,” I said.
I was standing on the deck and I held the object d’art up and found my reflection. The glass was broken in several places. My face was distorted, like when I gaze upon a beautiful woman on the Coney Island beach, who happens to be on break from the “Freak Show”. She is covered in tattoos. Or, distorted like when I gaze at the rotting carcass of a king crab on the sand of a lonely beach on Grand Manan Island in Maine. Or, distorted like when I am forced to listen to a CD by Miley Cyrus. Or, distorted like when I hear someone say that Bob Dylan can’t really sing.
Get the idea?
But, as I looked closely at the broken mirror, I saw several very different versions of myself. One part of me was the old man I had changed into when I closed my eyes for a nap a few years ago and woke up in late middle age. I’ve had gray hair most of my life, but what was that white on my head? (My son told me that I had that Phil Donahue look…and that was twenty years ago). Another part of me shows the fear I always felt about getting old and facing my own mortality. Behind that part of my head, I could see the chaos that was the universe…and I remembered all that I did to keep that terror of history at bay.
But there was yet another portion of my visage that I saw…more clearly now. It was one of contentment and peace. One of thankfulness that I’ve made it this long, seen so much and, hopefully, affected more than one life.
Yes, I was a father. Twice. Now, I’m a grandfather. A tiny bit of my DNA is residing inside of a little boy living in Orting, Washington. Another little molecule or two lives in some mitochondria of my daughter, also of Orting. What did she inherit from me? A love of travel? An insatiable love of books? And, a trace or two dwells inside the boy who was once so shy, fearful and gentle. Now, I see him as a man who outsizes me like I’m Y. A. Tittle and he is Bronco Nagurski.
I put the mirror down and went into the dining room where, in a small frame, is a photo of my father standing proudly beside his 1950 something Sunbeam Alpine. I took the picture in our driveway of our house in Owego, NY. Next to that is a another photo of him taken in the early 1930’s. I looked at that picture for years before I realized it was a “selfie”. Perhaps one of the first. I can see a thin white string leading from his hand toward the camera. He had it rigged so that he just tugged on the string and his image would be frozen forever on a sheet of silver-coated paper.
What did I have inside me that was part of him? His love of reading? His Irish heritage? His restless nature? His curiosity of nearly everything (even ABBA when he was in his late 80’s).
It’s a funny thing to think about. How we are all parts of a jigsaw puzzle the size of which would overwhelm your brain if you stopped to consider the random choices, history, a right turn here, a left turn there.
A broken mirror gives me, as a father, so many choices. To look back on my own dad. To look at myself. And, to look at the life I helped to bring into this world.
The store in Saranac Lake called yesterday. The broken glass of the brass mirror is fixed now. No more split personalities.