The Painted Mirror
“The room surrounded him:
Objects of desire
Obtained by firing his imagination
And hiring in its stead
A head of numbers and receipts.”
We are not designed to live alone, and in fact we don’t. Our efficiency, one room and a half apartment, holds our costumes and our play things, and we think we are living alone.
Nodding to other people doesn’t count. Friends who live on some other street, don’t count. Unless another person is taking up some of the space in our home, we think we are living alone. And, as we all know, from odd moments to even worse, sometimes when someone else is “living with us”, we are filled with our own loneliness: a trinity of emptiness, meaninglessness, and despair.
And yet, on the other proverbial hand, we are always surrounded by other people. They are, wherever they are, and we are wherever we are, but we surround each other, like atoms or ants, and from that perspective, we never live alone.
Dying is another matter.
Things keep us company. Early in his new job, shortly after his first few paychecks, H. M. had a dream. In it he was arguing with someone who felt and looked like his boss, dressed well, and flashing a new ring, flashing it, almost like a young woman announcing her engagement.
“You love your things,” H.M. said, “but you know, like everyone says, ‘you can’t take them with you when you die’.
His boss laughed, flashing that all knowing grin, a grin earned by years of living in and out of loneliness.
“Of course I can’t take them with me, when I die,” he said. “But they can’t ever leave me before that!”
The next Saturday, while wandering downtown, H.M.’s gaze, shifting from the trees on the sidewalk to the shop windows, focused on a display in a jewelry store. As he let his attention go from thing to thing, a watch, almost like a four year old, kept demanding to be noticed.
The watch he had on was an inexpensive token from high school, utilitarian, functional, without personality. In front of him was a future filled with promise and direction.
As he left the shop he felt, what for him was very rare, the combination of contentment and confidence. A memory un-beckoned sprang into his mind, the feeling first, then the memory. It was of Tinkey Teddy, his bear, his companion and night time guardian through all the years of his early childhood.
“I can do this,” he said aloud, looking with courage at the new toy on his wrist, “I can make it work, I can be just like I’m supposed to be; just like everybody else is supposed to be. It’s the only way.”