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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Gray Matters : Two mirrors

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Perhaps I should warn you that today's Gray Matter may be of little interest to any of you younger than, say, seventy. Forewarned, you "kids" can go directly on to an item more to your liking, if you choose.

First, I expect I should set the scene. You see, practically every one of us older folks who is reasonably mobile has been greeted with what we feel is a platitude when a younger person exclaims, "My, you are looking good." Our immediate reaction is to be a bit wary. In our own estimation, we know we're really looking anything but good, so we often conclude that the person greeting us is "just being nice."

A group of us were discussing such matters recently when one of my friends spoke up, saying, "That reminds me of a quotation I read in an article the other day. The writer explained our reaction by saying it is simply a matter of 'two mirrors'."

That word picture struck me as being a most appropriate explanation of what is taking place. A younger person looking at a fairly able elder, almost immediately starts making mental comparisons with the image of a friend or relative of a similar age.

By the law of averages, that friend or relative could well be using a cane or a walker, could be confined to a wheel chair, or even be bed-ridden. When reflected in that "mirror," the still-functioning oldster probably does look pretty good, by comparison.

The second "mirror," of course, is the one in which we old timers see our own images. Now stop and think about the comparisons we use when we do that. To be perfectly honest, I suspect, most of us pull up a self-image, which we may have retained for several decades.

It's comfortable to remember a time when one looked a whole lot better. You know, a time when facial skin was firm and much less wrinkled; when the color was even and relatively free of blotches and unsightly age-spots.

Or we may remember when the chin line had no hint of doubling or tripling, when there was none of the crepe-like texture of an aging neck to be concerned about. To be brutally honest, I expect images in a mirror are actually as dependent on the viewer's conceptions as they are on objective reality.

If I have not wandered too far a field, I hope you have been able to see what we were talking about. The reflection seen by a younger observer is bound to be much different from the one the older person is struck with.

Yes, I like that metaphor of two mirrors hanging side by side, each reflecting an entirely different image. I wish I knew who came up with that novel concept.

I would like to thank him or her personally for giving us something so interesting and challenging to think about today.