A funny thing happened on the way to the mirror.
A wrinkle here, a grey hair there, a little extra weight around my hips, a sagging of the eyeylids. Yes, a very funny thing happened on the way to the mirror.
I got older.
And I hadn’t even noticed.
I pulled out boxes of old photos to try to recognise exactly when and where that change took place. Eighteen, with the bouffant hairdo my mother constructed on my head that made me look 55? Twenty-one, in the brown crimplene dress, when my grandmother came to tea to celebrate, and my mother’s only concern was whether our menstruating poodle Emma would soil the Maskreys suite and/or worse, my grandmother’s “Sunday best”?
Did the stress start to show when I moved to London in the early Eighties, living on State benefits and having to steal chicken drumsticks from events I gatecrashed? Or that first doomed love affair . . . and the next, and the next, and the next?
In which part of my ageing face lies the grief of losing my father, my dear cousin Sarah, and the many, many friends who died way before they should have? Are these new wrinkles the result of my own stresses over the past few years, largely financial, but marks that also bear the indentation of those close to me who have suffered far worse in terms of health?
I see the things I should have done: paths wrongly taken, things I should have said and didn’t, people I should have loved more, people I should have loved less. Paintings and music I should have enjoyed, books from which I should have learned, walks my legs should have taken, both literally and metaphorically, when other steps didn’t work out.
Yes, a funny thing happened on the way to the mirror.
But it’s a house not just of one mirror, but many; and they are, quite simply, life. If you stare straight into one, it’s possible to see only the things you have lost - but stare into your house of funny mirrors and see the full picture.
I see the laughter of my father in my eyes, and also my mother, who is still with me. I see every wrinkle and line of a life that, despite its up and downs, is better than most could ever conceive of. Behind every mark of sorrow is a line of resurrection – not in the Biblical sense, but in the sense that I know I came through, and, if I have to, will do again. It hasn’t always been easy, and it might never be again, but all our faces, that are the reflection of our spirit, hold the hope and the knowledge that all is possible.
And I see my faults. Oh, yes, and they are many. Times I should not have got my tits out for the lads (oh, dear lord, yes); moments when I was insensitive to the points of view of others; jealousy, childishness, obsessive behaviour. Every which way I turn, another distorted vision of myself looks me in the eye. And d’you know what? That’s okay: because it’s all part of a very complex package that’s called being human. The mirror – or, rather, mirrors, never lie. But what really, really matters?
During the past few years, I have spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about whether I will lose my house; but in that time also, I have seen family and friends suffer both in their own health and in those of others close to them, in seemingly insurmountable circumstances. I have lost dear friends through illness. I am watching others endure pain because they don’t know what the future holds. Our health really is everything, and no bricks and mortar in the world can compete with the joy of a living heartbeat.
We live in a society in which people try to hold back the ageing process in so many ways: they look in the mirror and don’t like what they see. One young woman – beautiful, as it happens - died this week as a result of a liposuction procedure, which, weeks later, was deemed to have been the cause of the respiratory arrest that allegedly led to her death.
We spend too long looking in the mirror: looking to that which we can no longer change and looking to that over which we have no control. It is, ironically, though (and I am speaking only for myself), that lack of control I have come to embrace. We have none, and surrender is the best therapy.
So, while, today, I acknowledge that a funny thing happened on the way to the mirror, an altogether better and more extraordinary thing, happened: walking away from it.
At the end of the day, we all end up as broken glass anyway.
Let the reflections do what they will.
And let’s have fun with them while we can.