Monday, February 2, 2015

M'Lady's Mirror

Pregnant with possibility, Arnolfi had to have her. That’s what the 1434 painter, Jan van Eyck displayed. The small convex mirror behind the couple in the painted bedroom revealed all. It had an eye on the present, and the past. Its convex circular shape gathered in all that happens in 180 degrees to left and right, and 360 degrees in the round. Yet that which was behind (like that which was in the past) was entirely forgotten. Unlike humans, it could not recall the image. It lived only in the present, absorbing the immediate, and taking in the complex and multiple dimensionality of life that few humans, at a glance, could possibly be expected to see.

M’Lady Nancy Sinclair has just reminded me that she bequeathed to me her family heirloom, the convex mirror now hanging above her fireplace in her living room in Guildford, South Western Australia, “When I drop off the perch!” Her phraseology is idiomatic and platitudinous. Yet she is very brave, very accepting, and generously perspicuous so to email me. At 93 years old and still young, alert, brilliant, gifted, beautiful, caring and compassionate, M’Lady’s gift is of a mirror that has travelled with her most of her adult life. It’s seen her five children grow up. It’s seen her dear departed husband and all her dearest friends and relatives and visitors as well. It has taken in much of her life. It has watched her smile and weep. And it still reflects her lonely opening of the living-room curtains every morning, and the closing of them at night. “You must tell me now,” she entreated me in her museum-like-house of artefacts when I was there in 2013, “what item would you like to have from me when I drop off the perch?”

Awkward moments, those. With things, which of us does not feel like a vulture?

“Oh, I couldn’t,” I demurred. “Besides, you’ve a decade or two to go yet; there’ll be no flopping from a perch, thank you!”

But when she asked again, and again, I succumbed, and mentioned the convex mirror. Her blue eyes sparkled as she looked at it, then at me. “That’s exactly what my beloved Perry wanted too!” she exclaimed. “But he died before I did.” She smiled again. “It’s yours! When I go. But you must tell me, why?”

I downloaded van Eck’s ‘The Marriage of Arnolfi’ onto her computer. “When I was a schoolboy in the late 60’s,” I explained, “our art master, Mr. Payne, asked us what was special about the painting; what did we notice? For South African boys, it was a matter of indelicacy, this business of being pregnant, but when he said, ‘look in the mirror,’ my world of symbolism was born! And now that I’ve seen that mirror in your family pictures, I know its import to you, its history. It may well reflect our own present as we stand before it, but it will always reflect you!”
Present and past converge and get reflected in the convex surfaces of our lives, get swallowed up in the concave. Unlike mirrors, we see backwards sometimes more clearly than our present. (How often have you not wished you could repeat some passage of time to say or do different things?) Upon reflection, we gather insights that we did not have in the moment. Yet we are not as objectively perceptive as mirrors; we are not even as subjectively reflective! We can but hope to gather into ourselves sufficient unto the moment. How possibly to live entirely in the now?

The mirror sees all.

Framed in the round, reflecting in the round, even when that magical mirror of M’Lady's makes its dark way packed up in the mail to me one eventual sad day, it will reflect a past filled with love and vitality and a lifetime of her memories. And like the indelibility of the magic in the mirror in Van Eck’s painting, I too shall make M’Lady’s mirror live on in a canvas of my own.


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