It’s morning. Classical music from my alarm clock lures me to consciousness and I reach over to turn it off. It is time for the day to begin. Struggling to surface from the comfort of sleep, I rise from the warmth of my bed and stumble to the bathroom. Sleep is an elusive visitor these days and I am always reluctant to leave her behind when she blesses me with her appearance. Nevertheless, I have things to do and so I must.
I stand before the mirror and lean forward for a better look at the woman who I am this morning. I am nearsighted and without the help of my contact lenses or glasses all the world is a blurry place. As I gaze into the sleepy eyes of the woman in the mirror I think to myself “where did you come from?” I barely recognize the tired face looking at me. Her skin is blotchy and there is a blemish near her eyebrow. A blemish, for heaven sake, at age fifty! The whites of her eyes are slightly bloodshot and the skin underneath her eyes is dark. The eyelids that seem to droop more with each passing day have the look of crêpe paper. The lips are thin with slight lines fanning out from them like the spikes of dracaena I just planted.
I fill the sink with water and dip my washcloth a few times in the warm water. Some women say that at a certain point in life they see their mother’s face looking at them when they look into the mirror. I never knew my own mother and so if she is there I don’t recognize her. In fact, as I look back at the mirror and find that she reminds me of another woman I once knew.
I see shades of myself at twenty years of age in an unwrinkled face of a young mother. That face has no makeup, save for black mascara and the lips are full and turned up in a hopeful smile.
She is tired from caring for a baby and yet her eyes have a sparkle to them. She feels somewhat trapped by the circumstances that have become her life and yet is always hopeful that circumstances will change. She is proud of the fact that she has been told that she is good for her husband yet she wonders if he is good for her. Be strong, I want to tell her. Make the hard choices now and you will be rewarded in the future. I know she won’t heed my voice though. She thinks she has it all figured out.
I lift the wet cloth to my face and hold it for a few moments. Breathing slowly I take comfort in the warmth of the cloth and the sanctuary that it has made for me. When I finally remove it from my face, my eyes open to another woman in the mirror.
She is me at thirty. Her eyes are clear and I can see strength in them. I know that she has just finished college and landed the job of her dreams. Her life is busy. She is working full time, raising two children, and coping with a heavy drinking husband. She wishes and prays for him to change but deep down inside she is beginning to lose hope. Her sense of fulfillment comes from her children and her work. She is building a career and making plans for the future. It’s not too late, I want to tell her. Don’t let go of your dreams. I can tell that she has heard snippets of my advice and is considering her options.
I take refuge in the warm wet cloth once more inhaling the moist heat deeply and slowly. When I look up a woman who looks similar to the others looks back at me. This time there is something different in her eyes.
She is forty and has come through hard times. She finally mustered the strength to leave her marriage and subsequently endured years of depression, guilt, stress and hopelessness. Her eyes tell the story of pain that she has learned from and that she is now thankful for. She has recently remarried and feels like a young woman again. I’m proud of her because for the first time in her life she did what she wanted to do. Her face is beginning to show a few signs of her age, but she barely notices. She is busy living her life and having fun.
Then she vanishes, lost with the others, and the woman I am today remains. I am fifty and I look haggard in the morning light. It will take some makeup magic to make me presentable to the world. Yet in the eyes that are beginning to disappear under sagging eyelids, I see a glimpse of the future. I see the bright eyes of my baby granddaughter. They say that she has my eyes.
Though I have no mother to compare my aging self with, I have a son and daughter and granddaughter who will likely one day compare their own aging faces with mine. This thought inspires me to go forward and to follow my dreams. I owe it to the younger women who visited me in the mirror, and I owe it to my son, daughter and granddaughter.