Pausing at the mirror, he checked his appearance one final time. The navy and crimson tie was gently knotted in a Half-Windsor, a simple act of rebellion against the prevailing style for men his age. The regimental striped cravat, navy and crimson, hung perfectly at his waistline, silhouetted against the background of a crisp, white tailored shirt. He wished his hair were a bit longer, but damn, it was hot and more hair meant more sweat. And he didn’t like to sweat. At least not in a suit.
He glanced at his watch and pivoted to head for the car. It was going to be a big day and being late wasn’t an option. But as he turned to go he sensed something was out of place. Ash didn’t know what caught his eye, but he leaned closer to the mirror, studying himself like a painter studies her subject. What is that?
With the tip of his right index finger he tried to wipe it away, hoping to avoid smearing the graphite across his forehead. Is that ink? He dampened the finger on a still moist wash cloth lying on the sink and applied more pressure. But the mark wouldn’t budge, so he grabbed the cloth with all the zeal of a Pentecostal preacher, the dropped it midway through it’s journey to his face. Damn.
Ash had never really recognized it until now, had never truly seen it, but the lines on his forehead had somehow morphed into something more akin to etchings than wrinkles. And what had begun as an effort to look his best was quickly becoming a study in life. Suddenly, he was aware of the marionette lines at the corners of his mouth. He saw the crevasse, what he remembered some telling him were nasal labial folds, lining both of cheeks. In the unwanted epiphany of the moment, it occurred to him he’d be able to apply for social security in a few more years.
Where had the time gone? And who was this imposter in the mirror? Standing there, Ash thought about the scar on his shoulder. It was purple and blue and and still looked a little angry, though the pain had long-since subsided. It become an embellished tale of his continued need to test himself, perhaps to show he might cheat death. He had never been really afraid of death—well, at least not for a very long time—but in that moment, the victories and defeats of a lifetime seemed manifest within his body in ways that made him uncomfortable. But rather than resist the discomfort, he let himself feel it all.
He remembered how it felt when he’d be chosen to do a job he was ill-prepared for but was to young to realize it. He recalled how his mouth had gone dry when he’d heard the doctor say the word malignantand how relieved he’d been after the surgery ten years ago. And he recalled how the slow and tortuous erosion of his faith had left him needing to rethink his life, how he saw the world, and how relieved, even grateful, he was, for the pain and loss of that time. Somehow, to his surprise and the skepticism of some of the ones he loved most dearly, it had made him more compassionate: He hoped it had made him kinder.
All those thoughts, and more, had washed over Ash like final waves of an incoming tide—and all of it in less than a minute. Slowly, the stranger in the mirror had disappeared and his own smiling reflection returned. Bursting into laughter, Ash thought, maybe a little Botox might be a good idea. The young man he was on the inside, full of dreams and passion, with a taste for things that others subtly suggested was foolish for a man of his age, was still there. The lines and scars were just had the ribbons for running the race the way he had to run it. With that comfort he slipped back into present and remembered it was going to be a big day. It already was.