The first movie I ever saw, as a small child, was Walt Disney's "Snow White," and one of my most vivid memories from that film was the queen's magic mirror. When questioned, its surface would dissolve and swim, and out of the whirl a face would form, ferocious and terrifying, to announce its answer.
At the time I had no idea that every mirror is magic. There is a subtle inner shift in anyone looking at his image in a mirror. He sees his thoughts of what he looks like and this constitutes a message as clear as that of the terrible face in "Snow White." The queen needed reassurance of her beauty, rendered periodically by the faithful glass, but slowly it began to dawn on her that she was indeed different from her passionate desires for herself.
Mirrors also give us odd experiences, but they still give us much more of a comfortable image than photographs do. There a mirror's moment, often an ungainly one, is frozen, letting us see this fleeting self at leisure. We have tightened our faces against the sun's glare. Click -- and those prunes are us, a permanent family of frowners.
We all react to photographs of ourselves. As every photographer of graduating high school seniors knows, retakes are common. Those initial photos are of some impostor who is given away by stange imperfections here and there. And people who almost never dress up often want their pictures taken only when in their best clothes. Is it that this represents the real self, and the one everyone sees on most days just isn't quite oneself?
There is something not only amusing but endearing in that reaction, and yet there is also a charm in self-acceptance. Recently I was given a collection of pictures taken at a summer resort over fifty years ago. The guests wore an assemblage of white dresses, summer suits, big hats, and fluffy swimsuits that made them seem very foreign. But among them was a dark and shadowy photo of a workman, sitting at his kitchen table, a rag hanging on a peg behind him. He was smiling. The picture bore a sense of authority that the other images lacked. The man was at ease with himself, saying, "Here I am," unabashedly to the camera. It was surely the gem of the whole collection.
There is, of course, another way of taking his reaction, and one that haunts me. He could be thinking that after all he wasn't represented very fully by the figure in the chair, and so the photo was not a matter of great concern.
Paul remarked to the Corinthians, "For now we wee through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." That is the attitude I should prefer the workman had. The exterior is seeing through a glass darkly. The essential fact lies much deeper, somewhere near the heart.
Habitual looking at the heart would have had a dreadful effect on the "Snow White" narrative, but it surely would have helped the queen, as it would the rest of us. There are no cosmetics for the heart, but still many ways it can be made more beautiful, all of them available to us.
We all know people in whom the heart has a way of shining out through the face, them. This response is the mirror that redeems the face. One does not wish to call it magic, because its transformations are not random or quixotic. It is the enriched inner man brought out. It is also a mirror indeed fit for a queen.