In this Short Story a girl with a troubled past searches for a treasure she dreamed of but couldn’t see – genuine beauty. Going to all her friends and relatives to seek the truth, she was none the wiser for they kept changing their minds. She extended her search to her neighbours and townsfolk but still drew a blank. Eventually deciding to travel the world in search of her dream, a wise old man gave her a very valuable hand mirror with some sage advice – to use the mirror every day. In a special moment when she looked in the mirror, she realised she had indeed seen genuine beauty – in herself. She later learned that the mirror could not only show reality about herself, but it could be used for the benefit of others.
This story represents the lifetime search many of us conduct to find beauty, reality and truth. How many times the things of our childhood, or at least our past mess with the reality of who we are? We simply need a reliable reference point on which to compare ourselves with the world around us. The girl’s mirror did that for her. The truth was there all the time – she just needed to see it properly! Not all appreciated the reality they saw, however.
The story is a Christian parable too in that a man who seemed to know it all helped her see reality.
If Jesus is who He says He is and did that which He is claimed to have done, then His perfection is a solid measurement upon which we can use to compare ourselves. Indeed, this very conclusion is the result of my life’s findings following decades of my research, analysis, testing, questioning and faith.
The little girl’s mother was frustrated. She loved her youngest daughter as much as the others but found her very hard work with her many questions. “Why don’t you go and play with all the other children?” she would often say, but the little girl rarely did.
Hanging the clothes on the line with her mother was a daily chore that the little girl looked forward to. It gave her a chance to ask her mother more questions, and it meant that she didn’t have to hear unkind words from the other children, or have to suffer the teasing that comes from being the black sheep of the family.
“Which is the most beautiful dress on the line today Mummy?” the little girl asked today.
“I don’t know honey, I like them all. Which one do you think is the most beautiful?”
The little girl paused for quite a while and thought very hard. Yesterday she thought that the red dress with little white daisies that her mother had sewn onto it was the most beautiful, but today that didn’t seem right. The silky cream pleated skirt they made a week ago was glistening in the sun and the sparkle caught her eye.
“The cream skirt we made last week is definitely the most beautiful, isn’t it?” she suggested to her mother.
“Well it surely does look nice in the sunshine doesn’t it, but yesterday you told me that the red dress with daisies was the most beautiful one we had. Are you sure now?”
The little girl was silent. She was thinking hard, as always and didn’t have an answer. She stopped still with some damp clothes still in her hands and her head dropped as she thought.
After a while her mother looked down and across at her daughter and could see her pain trying to make sense of it all. She knew how serious the matter was for her daughter but it frustrated her that she always asked questions like she did. Then when she went quiet, it was like her daughter wasn’t happy any more and seemed to be dreaming.
“Oh don’t be like that!” her mother snapped, grabbing the clothes off her daughter. “They’re all nice clothes, silly. Go inside and I’ll finish them off myself”. That was the end of hanging the clothes out for the day.
The little girl WAS upset. Yesterday she was SURE that one dress was the most beautiful, and then the next day it wasn’t. She just wanted to know the truth, that’s all, and it kept changing on her. She slumped down in a bean-bag and got a book to read. She turned the pages and her eyes zig-zagged across the words but she wasn’t reading them. Round and round her mind went thinking about the people all around her – her brothers; her sisters; her mother and her father; her neighbours and teachers.
They ALL kept changing their minds!
One minute one brother was friends with one boy and all the others were “bad boys” and then a few days later he was friends with the “bad boys” and his old friend was “no good”! Her sisters did crazy things with their rooms too. One day their beds were by the window and that was the “best” place for them, then the next week she would find their beds in another place which was “better”.
It drove her nuts! “Why can’t they just work out their best friend and keep him; or decide on the best place for their beds and leave them there?” They were simple logical questions that didn’t seem to have answers.
And her parents were the same, and their neighbours. One day her father came home from work and told them all that his boss was no longer any good and that he had resigned – just like that! But the week before she had heard him tell the neighbour that he worked for the best boss in the world. And the neighbour told her father that somebody on the Council was a “ratbag” but the man was at his BBQ the month before and he was telling everyone how great this man was.
As she grew up, she learned to keep quiet about what she was thinking and she found ways to ask questions without upsetting people. Sure, in some ways it was a little sneaky, because she felt like she was tricking people by leading them on, but she was curious and really wanted to know what was what around her. She learned to cope with the big wide world quietly because she didn’t like conflict.
The boys started to take an interest in her as she matured into a young lady, but she worked out very early on that they only wanted one thing. She looked for integrity; for something real and genuine; for something with natural beauty. She struggled to find that with the boys so found ways to keep them away and left them alone in their dreamworld.
Her teenage years passed and her questions remained. She’d prepared for travel for years and knew where she wanted to go – away as far as she could into every country and culture that she could find. She knew what she was looking for and would not stop looking until she had found it. She wanted the truth. What was REALLY the most beautiful thing in the world?
For years she’d badgered her parents; her family; her neighbours and had burned off every boy whom she’d ever met. She was known in the town as the unhappy girl who asked too many questions, so it wasn’t without a little relief when she announced her departure. The people said that they were sad to see her go. She didn’t believe them in the slightest. She was sure that there was something real out there, somewhere. Surely there was something beautiful and real?
The old man said nothing as he listened to the girl he’d seen grow up, for he couldn’t talk since his throat operation. He got up and motioned for the girl to come into his bedroom and indicated for her to reach up into the top of his wardrobe. She did so and brought down a dusty old shoebox. He opened it and took out an old hand mirror. It wasn’t anything to write home about, but she could see that it meant a lot to him. He looked into it, turned it over and started to weep.
It was his wife’s mother’s or grandmother’s hand mirror as best as she could work out from his hand signals.
They returned to the man’s lounge and he wrote in his little communications book, “PROMISE TO USE IT EVERY DAY?” She nodded and then the old man gave the mirror to the girl.
She walked away unimpressed, but grateful that she had helped the old man give something of value away. It seemed to make him happy. The mirror was a mirror, an old one but the sort of thing that you could get at any second hand shop for a dollar or two.
Over the years, her travels took her to many countries, and many cultures. She learned how to ask questions and to keep her thoughts to herself. She shared them every now and then with some people she felt she could trust, but always . . . always, she found that people would find ways to take advantage of her.
When this happened she would move on, sometimes right away, other times after a little while so as not to cause a scene. Everywhere she ended up, communities would always invite her to join them in their values. She’d never have told them this to their face, but she found the Buddhists and their meditation a bore; the Catholics scared her and she wished that they would think for themselves; the Muslims really meant what they said and this scared her even more. The Christians showed the most love at first, but she always had the impression they were out to convert her. The hippies and Gypsies were fun but she struggled to see where it was all going. The city people loved to organise her into buses and trains and timetables and activities, and while the rurals scoffed at her city ways she could tell that they thought they were better than the rest.
She came close to settling down a couple of times – her last man had given her an ultimatum – “The mirror or me” which meant that she would have to break her word to the old man she’d given her word to years previously. She had thought long and hard about this quandary but in the end, she really no choice and left with the mirror.
A magic moment happened shortly after that encounter; one that changed her life. Lying back in the grass on a little hillside she took out the mirror and polished it. The girl had learned early on that she could get the best view of reality if the mirror was clean. Any dust or smudges annoyed her, because she couldn’t see things properly. “How can I see what things really are if the mirror is dirty?” she would argue with some of her friends.
She stared at herself in the little hand-held mirror and watched as the clouds slipped gently past in the distance. The diamond earrings her ‘man’ had given her sparkled in the sun, and a wisp of her long flowing hair blew across her face for a moment and then fell back onto the grass.
The thought came from nowhere and caught her by surprise at its intensity – it was almost an audible voice, yet it wasn’t words, and it spoke to her belly-button, head and heart all at the same time. It combined two thoughts in one and resulted in an incredible peace, something that she had never experienced before. It was almost like all her questions from the years before had been answered all at once in this one experience.
At that moment she knew, looking at herself in the mirror that she was indeed beautiful. She was certainly beautiful in the physical, but also in the purity by which she lived her life. Had she not shown incredible integrity to walk away from the man that she was closest to, and almost betrothed? And had she not polished the mirror to give a perfect rendition of what she was seeing?
It was true. She was beautiful, and the mirror had helped her to see it.
Years of mistreatment at the hands of horrible children; frustrated parents and shallow siblings; confusing adults of the neighbourhood all melted into insignificance when her eyes, heart and soul all recognised the truth in that one special moment. She closed her eyes and smiled, at peace with the universe for the first time in her life!
A little while following this magic moment, she fell ill. Her mirror came out every day nonetheless and she looked at herself white as the snow; sick as a dog. It wasn’t a problem for her any more to see her less than ideal. They’d taken her jewellery away and the hospital bed had replaced the grass, but she knew that when she polished the mirror and looked at herself, that this represented the truth – it was reality, and that reinforced the peace that she had.
After her visitors had come and tried to encourage her with words such as, “Oh you’re looking a lot better today!” she would bring out her trusty hand-mirror and make her own assessment. She trusted her own assessment of her health much more than people out to make her feel good.
“Beautiful eh? A mirror never lies does it?” the man’s voice spoke and surprised her.
The voice was a gentle voice; a knowing one that came from behind her. She hadn’t seen him so she assumed that he had been on the steps at the end of the wharf when she had walked out. Sitting on the edge of the pier now, with her hair flowing in the wind, she had brought out her mirror and looked at herself, thinking that she was alone.
“I’ve found that the secret is to polish it!” he spoke again as the girl had yet to turn.
She did that now and looked over at him. He smiled. She returned the smile.
“Not everyone wants to look you know?” she noted.
“Sad, eh?” he said, echoing her thoughts exactly. She nodded, for it was if she had no need to talk with this stranger. He seemed to understand her without words being necessary. They sat in silence and watched the boats move up and down the estuary together. After a long time, the man spoke first.
“I don’t think you need to look at the mirror any more!” he said.
The girl was puzzled. “But I do . . . you see I promised the man who gave it to me . . .” and she tapered off as she realised that it was futile trying to explain it all to this man beside her. Somehow he seemed to already know it all anyway.
“What did you promise him?” the man asked.
“To use it every day,” the girl replied.
“Can I use it for a moment?” he asked, reaching out for the mirror at the same time.
She was curious now, for this man seemed to have little use for a mirror. He clearly knew everything already. She watched as he put the mirror up to his face without even so much as looking at it.
She laughed out loud, for the man had the mirror the wrong way round! The mirror was pointing at her and she could see herself laughing in the mirror. She knew that when the man looked down at the mirror he would realise his mistake, and probably laugh too.
He kept his eyes on the girl and smiled again, knowingly. Then without breaking eye contact, he winked.
She worked it out now . . . the man knew that he had the mirror back to front, but why? What was he trying to tell her, or worse still, trying to show her?
For the first time since the magic event she was worried and confused.
A cold sweat broke over her as she experienced the same mixture of fear and pain that had dogged her in times past. She recalled in an instant when she had so many questions, when she didn’t know the answers and couldn’t work out reality.
The man was still looking at her and smiling when his eyes flicked down to the mirror he was holding up for her. She followed his gaze and looked at herself in the mirror. Somehow this man held the mirror in such a way that he had her face in perfect mid-frame. She really looked a mess. She was frightened and looked it. The mirror never lied. She knew it. She could feel it and the mirror simply told her what she already knew.
But she had promised the old man to use it every day, so she had to. This man was trying to show her something but, smart as she was, she still didn’t get it. She puzzled over it for a while until she gave up and asked the man. “What am I missing, sir?”
“What did the old man write when he gave you the mirror?” the man asked her.
“He asked me to promise to use it every day,” she said.
“Am I using the mirror when I hold it this way?” he asked the girl simply.
The girl thought about it for a moment, and smiled . . . of course . . . of course. The man beamed as he watched his student ‘get it’. The old man just wanted her to USE the mirror every day. She didn’t need to look at herself any more – she knew herself – she just needed to USE it!
What a release this all was. “The old man clearly was a wise old man”, she thought.
“The old man must have known a thing or two eh?” the man spoke . . . again her very thoughts.
As they walked back down the wharf they chatted like long-lost friends and finally parted company. The girl walked away pondering so much of what had just transpired. She had not gone far when she recalled the words of her new friend when he had started talking about the old man. He had asked her what the old man had written, not said! How did he know that the old man couldn’t talk but had to write? She hadn’t explained that to him yet he had known. And the way he could speak her thoughts aloud . . .
She turned quickly and ran back to find him. She wanted to know the answers . . . how did he know? Who was he? Why . . . ?
She couldn’t find him.
The girl walked over to a park bench where a young mother was looking over a couple of children playing nearby. As the girl prepared to sit down and befriend this lady, she thought to herself that she should look at herself in the mirror. As she sat down on the park bench and greeted the young mother and took out her mirror. She stopped herself though from looking in the mirror and just chatted. It didn’t seem to matter any more as she learned more about her new friend. She knew what she would see anyway so there was no need to look.
The young mother was kind to her children and the girl noted this. The mother was clearly tired and the girl offered to entertain the children for a little while she caught a quick nap on the park bench. After a little while a man arrived and snuggled up to the young mother while she slept, putting his hands through her hair from time to time; obviously a gentle man who truly cared for his wife. The girl returned with their children and caught them both looking into the girl’s hand-mirror, giggling. Embarrassed, they quickly put the hand-mirror down and apologised for using something that didn’t belong to them.
The girl didn’t mind in the slightest and asked them what they saw when they looked into the mirror. The young couple were a little insecure and joked about it all nervously.
The girl sat down on the park bench and looked straight at them. Without looking away, she reached down, took the mirror and held it up as if to look at herself but the wrong way round, just as the man had done on the wharf to her. She started to talk without losing eye contact and watched the young couple, knowing that like her, they would be thinking she had the mirror the wrong way round.
“You know what I see?” the girl started. “I see beauty. I see a beautiful young mother who is tired. I see a lovely, kind and caring young man who clearly loves his wife. I see hope, and meaning, and purpose, and more . . . ” The girl was at peace as she shared everything good that she had observed about the young couple and their family in her time at the park.
They hugged each other and she waved goodbye to the children. There wasn’t a dry eye between them.
She continued her travels and spent a lifetime caring and helping others.
Every now and then, when she had the opportunity to do so, she brought out her hand-mirror and showed it to those she met – many who became her friends. She found many who wanted to change when they saw themselves. Men would sometimes touch their stubble and women their hair when they were self-conscious. Some were even too afraid to look at themselves and refused her offers. Some made a big joke about it and puffed themselves up to look good.
Sometimes, on very special occasions she captured a moment when reality and beauty combined. Those moments brought a special feeling of peace and joy to the girl who started as the black sheep of the family; a little girl who simply asked questions and dreamed of genuine beauty.
In the end though she was the one that brought the beauty of the truth to others. Yes, genuine beauty was indeed encapsulated in the truth. She’d learned that the things she sought were not so much the truly beautiful, but that the truth was beautiful.
And the old man must have known something, for she did indeed use the mirror every day!
To find the path; the peace; the facts;
Our quandary is to know the truth;
Our minds go round and round then back;
For help to understand our youth.
The forms of challenge are, I’ve found;
Our Maker first to hear and see;
Then after that we look around;
I’ve hurt my friends and then hurt me;
Things happen in our lives we know;
For reasons that elude us all;
The hint of Someone up above;
Who seems to be there when we fall.
I’ve spent a lifetime chasing honesty;
The god-shaped hollow deep inside;
But struggles dead, I’ve found the key;
To let Him talk and quell my pride.