A rear-view mirror is still a mirror

People say all the time that they have no regrets.  Me, I’m practically defined by them; a man with no regrets is a man with no imagination, as far as I’m concerned, and I say that all too often for people around me, I suspect.  Still, I confess I’m mystified by people who essentially admit they can’t think of anything in their past that could have gone better had they made a different decision.  Equally, I fail to understand the virtue of still being the same person you were 40 or 50 years ago.  As Muhammad Ali said, someone who has the same opinions at age 50 as they had at age 20 has wasted 30 years of life.

Maybe that’s why, now that I’m old, I have this strange compulsion to revisit my life, to retrace my steps.  I’m drawn to places, both actual and conceptual, I passed through on my way here, to physically visit them, to stand in my own footsteps to see — what?

It’s not at all clear what it is I’m looking for, certainly not a glimpse of myself as I was then; that’s a vision that’s all too clear.  Nor is it primarily an attempt to reconstruct what I was thinking, to re-find or redefine whatever it was I thought I was doing, although that would certainly be interesting.  I’m not looking for redemption, or even a rationale.

Part of it is to correct the unconscious revisions I have made to my own history.  I’m sure you’ve had the experience of reconnecting, after many years, with an old friend or acquaintance, only to find that there are at least two contradictory versions of some common experience.  These things are seldom resolved, though.  We generally each come away wondering how the other person could have gotten the memory so wrong and yet be so sure.  It needs a new term to describe these common events.  How about “memoroid?”  I think that has enough innuendo hanging from it to serve the purpose.

No doubt what I’m looking for is a lot closer to hand and a lot easier to get at than a precisely calibrated reconstruction of the past.  See, I don’t think you can have a realistic assessment of who you are without a clear picture of who you were.

That gets both more and less difficult as you get older.

 

Time, gentlemen..

Most of the time, I think I look okay, not much different, as time goes by.  I look in the mirror when I shave in the morning, and I see some gray hairs (okay, white hairs), but the rest of me, I tell myself, is holding its own – a little mellower, maybe, a sag here, a wrinkle there, but all things considered, not so bad.

The other times I see myself are mostly reflections in a display window, hasty, on the way elsewhere, a quick glance, and, yeah, I’m alright.  My fly isn’t unzipped, at least.

Every once in a while, though, I have occasion to look in the mirror with my glasses on.

What I see is not necessarily bad, per se – a grandfatherly codger, unthreatening, friendly in an absent-minded way.  But it’s not the dashing figure of my shaving mirror, or even the literally dashing fellow hurrying by the store window.

Of course, I’ve known all along I’m getting old; it’s not a big secret.  I have a birthday every year, and I can count, providing I don’t get distracted and lose my place.  I’m old, face it.  If I’m only reminded every now and then, all the better, no?

Then I reflect on the fact that most of the people I come in contact with day to day are comparatively young, with excellent vision.  What I see occasionally, when I accidentally look in the mirror with my glasses on, they see all the time.

It’s not so much that I’m treated dismissively, or that I feel out of it; on the contrary, I’m in the swim, as much as I want to be.  It’s just the realization of my slow, inevitable decline.  Kind of like leaving a beloved city and seeing its outline receding in the rearview mirror.

With glasses on.