A little old lady sat alone at the edge of her bed.
Just as she had done every year on her birthday, she pulled a worn red satin pouch from her nightstand and set it on her lap. She paused momentarily to take in a deep breath before sliding out an old ornate hand mirror.
Gazing into her reflection, the woman began to sob. After all these years, she finally understood the mirror's mysterious power. Like water being poured into a glass of crushed ice, the realization filled the empty spaces of her being.
Guiding her hand back into the pouch to return the mirror, her hand emerged with another object -- a very old birthday card. Joy sprouted from her belly and blossomed in a child-like smile as she looked at it.
She had received the card, along with the mirror, a lifetime ago on her 10th birthday. She opened the card and read the message:
My Dearest Granddaughter,
I'm so excited for the long and beautiful life you have ahead of you.
This mirror has been my most treasured possession. It holds a special power. It is my sincerest hope that one day it brings you the same joy as it has brought to me.
Only you have the ability to uncover the truth that it reveals. Regrettably, this will likely take some time, but I promise it will be well worth the wait.
With love always,
It had been years since the old lady had read the message. She was filled with memories of the journeys she and this red pouch had taken through the years.
As a young girl, she had been absolutely enchanted by the mirror, gazing at her reflection constantly. During those years, she could see herself clearly reflected in the middle with small images of the things that made her feel safe and loved scattered around the border like stickers. She felt comforted by the sense that her grandmother, her parents and Elenor, her prized stuffed elephant were always there with her.
By the time she'd reached high school, the mirror's charm had faded considerably. While her reflection was still visible in the mirror's center, the surface had become increasingly cluttered with images of her relationships, obsessions and insecurities that steadily bled in from the sides. True to her teenage sensitivities, she had taken great pleasure in flamboyantly waving her treasure around, only to quickly return it to its pouch if anyone showed sincere interest.
As she moved through adulthood, the gift from her grandmother felt like just another thing she owned that had outlived its utility. In fact, gazing into the mirror had become a source of suffocating disquiet, as the images that had once been isolated to the border were now piled in layers across the entire surface. Consumed by the busyness of stress and worry of it all, her reflection had become an invisible shadow crowded out of existence.
Sometime during midlife, the old lady lost hope of ever uncovering the mirror's truth. No longer capable of facing her failure, the artifact was relegated deep into the non-trafficked recesses of her nightstand. Solely out of reverence for her grandmother, she endured the torment of gazing into is reflection once a year on her birthday.
Just a few years ago, she couldn't remember exactly when, the old lady noticed space beginning to open up within the mirror's center. Unable to make sense the steadily increasing emptiness, her birthday ritual had become an unsettling source of existential dread.
It was her birthday last year when she notice her reflection was no longer obscured in any way. The handful of images that remained scattered around the borders were of the things she most adored like her husband, children and grandchildren. While the border's decor bore little resemblance to the one she'd cherished as a little girl, the swelling of peace it elicited felt deeply familiar.
With humble acceptance, the old lady reflected on the time that had elapsed since her last birthday. While her life had never been easy, nothing could have prepared her for losing the love of her life. As she waded through sorrow and grief that seemed to have no end, the old lady transformed into something different, something unexplainably stronger. As she sat on the bed today, she realized that this was to be her husband's final gift. He wanted her to finally see the mirror's truth. A truth that had been there all along.
She now understood the mirror's special power. It reflected the image of what she thought she was.
In her early years, the old lady had been focused on building her life into something important, something that made her parents proud. The harder she worked, the more crowded the mirror's surface became with things that all felt vitally important. In retrospect, she could remember but a few. Her true essence had become buried under a pile of unnecessary noise not by life itself, but by her own efforting. She had placed herself in the hole and filled it up shovelful by heavy shovelful.
As life continued to roll by, she was forced to accept the hard truth that life would demand everything back before she departed this world. To prepare her for that certainty, all of those heavy shovelfuls of important stuff were steadily swept away by the tides, leaving her naked and alone.
On this magical day, the old lady saw nothing but a reflection of herself. The same reflection she'd see in any other mirror, only different. Defying her age, she was somehow brighter and more vibrant than she'd ever been.
It was in this moment she realized that the image in the mirror is all she is, and ever was.
Emptied of everything else, the old lady was finally whole.