“Magic Mirror on the wall…” No need to go further. We all know what comes next.
That iconic query leveled at a looking glass by the jealous queen in Snow White started all the troubles to come. The queen didn’t get the answer she expected; the one she’d convinced herself she’d hear. Instead it told the truth.
The magic mirror went on to validate Snow White’s supremacy; fears the queen already had but hadn’t dared admit, even to herself. The magic in the mirror exposed the internal expectations and anxieties as well as the external similes and realities. Had my sister owned such a looking glass in her teen years she wouldn’t have been able to convince herself she was wasting away on daily additions to her diet of butter and sugar. Her excess weight would have been undeniable. And I, standing on tiptoe as a small child to find out who I was in the mirror in the front hall, would have learned the person inside couldn’t be revealed in the glass; a fact my grandmother convinced me of over many years of thoughtful mentoring.
It’s interesting how quickly the queen accepted the mirror’s statement that Snow White was actually the ‘fairest of them all’. Apparently the truth she already knew was enough to convince her once she heard it spoken. Or was that in fact her own anxiety talking and not the mirror at all? If so, one might think she didn’t need the mirror in the first place and could have come to the same conclusion a lot earlier had she only listened to herself. I wonder how close to our own reality this fairy tale comes; very close, I suspect. Isn’t that the point of fairy tales, after all? Reread later in life, they trigger reminders of lessons we’ve learned before, but forgotten until…something reflects our fears back to us and magically, we see the truth again.
If all this sounds more opaque than a smeared looking glass, it’s only because mirrors come in many disguises these days. Mine shed light on me from ‘friendly’ reactions of others making me squirm with discomfort when I expected only soothing affirmation. ‘You are not who you think you are,’ they said.
So was that the crux of it; the magic response; the truth? Did I know it before and refuse to admit it? That others were having as much trouble dealing with my husband’s death as I was, I’d come to accept. That they didn’t know how to respond to me since they didn’t know how to react to his loss for themselves was also a fact I’d come to concede. But I felt a growing discomfort in the presence of many former friends and allies that produced a mounting nausea much akin to seasickness. I couldn’t imagine why the imbalance in my inner ear occurred when I was walking on increasingly solid ground. Finally I decided to ask my own magic mirror why these formerly friendly souls didn’t seem to like me anymore, and the answer it gave back to me was just as initially unexpected but ultimately undeniable as that from the queen’s own. Can you guess what it was?