“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?
I remember the first time I saw Walt Disney’s ‘Snow White’ I was shocked by the directness of the magic mirror’s response. Mine was no less dreadful.
“You are not who they want you to be,” my mirror said.
“Oh really?” I answered in my innocence. “And who might that be, Magic Mirror?”
“You are not your husband,” it replied. “They want you to step into his life and be him. At the same time they also begrudge your attempts at independence. They resent you. Nobody wants to be left behind.”
The queen recognized the truth from her magic mirror on the wall immediately and sprang into action. Of course she did; she’d known it all along, hadn’t she? Unfortunately her strategy was to wipe out the competition with the aid of a poisoned apple, her evil intent not ending as she’d hoped. I, too, instantly recognized the truth, although I didn’t admit it to my mirror quite as quickly. I had to let it percolate a bit before I assimilated its magic. Now that the image is so clear I can react almost involuntarily, understanding how natural it is for others to be as human as I am. Lost as to their own roles now that they don’t have my husband to rebound from, looking for guidance and familiar signposts of behavior I can’t provide them with, I understand their discomfort, even a sense of betrayal, they have for me. They wonder why I’m here and not him, and in that case why I don’t try to become him. The truth isn’t easy, and yet I wonder if I didn’t secretly suspect it all along. The magic of the mirror confirms our worst fears—what we didn’t want to know.
The good news the jealous queen missed entirely is that once you’ve seen it, you’ve already conquered it. She could have skipped all that horrible plotting with the apple and just acknowledged Snow White’s beauty. I think if she had, she’d have understood she wasn’t so bad looking herself. Just different. That’s the magic.