Once upon a time, as the clichéd entry begins, there was a beautiful young girl who lived in a magic mirror. The girl spent much of her time gazing into the world of reality, longing to be a part of the adventures and pleasures that their kind of life could bring. She pressed her hands against the thick glass that separated her world from theirs and imagined a place where people were full of energy and colour, much unlike the flat and dulled spaces she saw when surveying her own home. The girl was a dreamer, that much was well known about her – but who she really was seemed a mystery even to her friends and family; she saved her heart for staring across the glass and into the lives of others.
The mirror she lived in was magical for two reasons; the first, obviously, was that it contained and protected a world of people, just like those on the other side. They were a special and lovely clan, friendly and full of life, though the girl couldn’t see it. The second magical element to the mirror was that it was reflective, though it did not reflect directly. When a person came up against the glass they would not see their own image but instead it was the reversal of the world at their back. If the girl had taken a step backwards and turned around she would be looking at exactly the same view as the mirror seemed to project.
Perhaps if she had turned around she would have joined into the game of Frisbee that had found so intriguing. If she had turned, she could have given a hug to the child with scrapped knees that had fallen off her bike. Maybe then she would have gone to the dance or carolled at Christmas or played in the park or done one of a million things that she watched the children in the mirror doing. If only she had turned around and faced her world with her eyes truly opened, maybe then she would have really lived.
But the girl never answered the call of her friends when she was looking through the pane of glass. She blocked out and ignored everything that happened behind her and refused, perhaps unconsciously, to participate in her world.
Especially when he was there.
A boy, young and handsome, looked back at her; he used to be so quiet, only rarely coming into the mirror’s view. He would quietly walk back and forth between the trees at the edge of the wood, always with a cautious and curious gaze. In the girl’s imagination she would often think of conversations that she might have with this boy, were he able to see her. Impossible, she thought. He lives in the world of colour and I am here, so flat and dull. He can’t see my world nor can I pass through this glass to his. Impossible. And yet the more the she dwelt on the impossibility of her growing affection for the boy and the more confidant he seemed to grow, coming ever closer to the mirror, the more hopelessly consumed she became with the life she saw – and the more distanced from her world she became as well.
By day the little girl would peer through the glass, longing to be on the other side with the boy and his friends, and into the evening she would lie down on the grass and drift into dream about his world and his life. Little did she know that he too had spent time dreaming of the looking glass girl, slowly building up the courage to finally meet her. Until then, he thought, I will care for her from a distance, dreaming of the life we might someday share.
Time wore on and the girl went to the mirror in spring rain and winter chill for many years. She grew from a hopeful child to a young woman enveloped in an imaginary life; with every passing season she found herself loving the boy, now a man, more and more, but she was also desperately lonely. He was a beautiful fiction – intangible, illusive and pretend. It’s a lie, she would tell herself, over and over while staring into his face. His image stood now, and for a long time before this moment, directly before her, confidant, tall and strong. He was kind looking and attractive, ever so much more than their first few meetings, and yet he was the wonderful lead character of a life she could never possess. He’s not real... but I love him...
The man had attached himself completely to this woman in every way that one can without physical contact or mutual conversation. He was so committed to her that in a moment’s breath he would marry without doubt or fear, and yet he remained silent, waiting until she was ready.
That day came after seven years of looking through glass. The girl had been eerily quiet for hours, thinking about her life; the life that she had wasted by spending her time standing in front of the mirror. She thought about her family and her friends that for so long had worked to keep her in touch with reality, supporting her and loving her even when they disagreed with what she was doing and thinking. She thought about the part of her heart that she had devoted to the glass, the investment of her mind that she had put in something so superficial and empty. Then the girl stopped thinking and began to act. She stood and bravely faced the mirror’s surface.
“NO!” she cried, emotions erupting from the depths of her soul. The single word rang loud and true and clear with a self-strength she had never before experienced. “You do not own me!”
Suddenly the woman threw herself forward and pounded the sheet of glass with both fists. She could feel it strain under her pressure. She struck again, with more force and the glass moaned at the blow. Once more she lifted her arms in an attack against the glass that had kept her from life on either side of the pane. The flawless surface of the magic mirror shattered.
For the first time in the whole of her life, she saw her own reflection in the broken glass. The little girl, so familiar from ages past, was nowhere to be seen and in her place stood a tall and beautiful woman, colourful and strong, like the people she had been watching for years. She laughed a quiet, mournful laugh for the life that the mirror had stolen away. “How did I ever get so consumed with the life of my fantasy when reality, true and present and full, was all this time behind me? How could I be so blind?” The woman leaned her forehead against the broken glass and let her tears fall. “No more of this. No more.”
After a moment she pushed away from the pane and turned away from her life of slavery to an imagined world. Her eyes lifted up, truly open to the sight in front of her, her world, reality. She gasped.
The view she saw was the view she has been staring at since girlhood. The meadow, the trees, the town and the church, the school, the people... the boy...
He stepped forward and held out his hands. “I knew you would find me eventually.” He smiled. He was a boy no longer as she was no longer a child, and his voice was deep and clear. How she had waited for this moment! How she had longed to hear him speak! “I’ve been waiting so long,” he said, “because I knew that you weren’t ready for me. You’ve no idea how my heart ached when you were crying and I couldn’t comfort you. How I longed to laugh along with you, but I needed to wait. But now you have finally come away from your dreams and wishes into a world that can truly be yours. Come with me; let me show you the life you have been missing, the life you have always wanted.”
How much of our lives are spent longing for an imagined life? How often do you find yourself dreaming of that perfect man or woman, however distant and intangible they may be? A life of ideals and fanciful hopes is a dangerous and discouraging one to dwell within. Concentrating solely upon the future causes you to lose sight of the present; aspiration must be balanced with action, daydream with truth. Don’t forfeit who you are but find who you are in the world that’s foundation is real; it is then that you will truly discover what it means to live.