What Does Your Looking-Glass Reflect?

“The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.”
― William Makepeace Thackeray

IMG_0634I have often wondered why mirrors are a prized possession of the poor in Latin America. We all have mirrors, but in Nicaragua mirrors are a luxury. They are very expensive and there are many mirror salesman that travel the dusty, cow manured roads in search of buyers for their precious portals. My neighbor has a large, faux gold framed mirror in her living space. It hangs high on a dilapidated wall, the only shining adornment in her dirt-floored shack… if you don’t count the picture of Jesus beside the TV, which is wobbling against the cement block wall.

In the Mesoamerican culture, mirrors were used as a portal to another realm. I imagine them gazing into this mysterious portal, unable to interact, yet performing time-worn rituals to call forth the gods of love, health, and riches. This venerable tradition evolved from their early beliefs that the smooth surface of water could be used as a potent tool for divination, seeing the unknown, portals to the sacred caves, conduits of the supernatural forces, and as synonyms for the power of the sun. Before mirrors, bowls of water were used to examine the reflections of sick children. If the child’s reflection was dark then his soul, or tonalli in Nahuatl, had escaped from his body. I wonder, were the ancient ones frustrated because they couldn’t enter nirvana…constantly chanting “Beam me up, Scotty?” Or, were they satisfied in the powers of divination only with the ability to see the unknown?

This novelty of reflection continues in my little community. Peering into the mirror, the children let out a burst of giggling glee. They have the same reaction when I show them the digital photos I’ve taken. Then, I begin to realize that for people who have next to nothing, a mirror is an unattainable luxury. I am dumbstruck. It is hard for me to imagine a world where self-reflection is an unattainable luxury.

IMG_0651 But, mirrors, as well as digital photography, can change that. They enable the poor to see the world through different eyes. I experience a moment of pure bliss in watching the children look at their reflections in the mirror and on my camera. They laugh at it and with it, considering it to be a kind of jolly companion. Pity and sympathy for their impoverished lifestyles vanish with the revelation that they are truly happy. This family chose to look at the world with optimism and joy. The world is their looking-glass, and gives back to them the reflections of their triumphant faces. This simple moment changed my perspective of poverty. Their looking-glass reflects hope for this troubled world in which we live. 

                                     What does your looking-glass reflect?


12 thoughts on “What Does Your Looking-Glass Reflect?

  1. “The world is their looking glass.” So true. Like you, I love to see the reactions of children and adults when they see their image through the camera. They express complete joy in the moment and that simple experience is satisfaction to them. Not wishing they had a mantle full of family photos or owning a camera itself. I like your quote.

    • Lynne, I used to give my little point and shoot camera to our neighborhood kids, and tell them to take pictures of their lives on Ometepe Island. Then, they brought the camera back to me, I printed the pictures, and they wrote little stories under each picture. Their pictures were fascinating glimpses of what was important in their lives. They took pictures of all the trees, animals, and their family. I’d like to start a project like that again with more cameras that I could lend to the children. So many ideas…so little time.

      • What a wonderful thing to do. Pictures and stories. A real glimpse into their lives. I am always inspired by what you do, Debbie. You make Ometepe a brighter world for many. 🙂 Merry Christmas.

  2. Debbie, I loved reading your reflections on the question of mirrors. Made me think of a character from the book, “Meet Me under the Ceiba” by Silvio Sirias ~ which takes place in Nicaragua. Jon & I both read it while on our recent trip to Nicaragua. There’s an eccentric character in the book who is quite memorable for his astonishing mirror collection.

    • Grit, I wish I would have known you had that book! I would love to borrow it. His books aren’t in Kindle format, so when I returned to the states I bought “Bernardo and the Virgin” by Silvio Sirias. Based on a true story, it was about the sighting of the Virgin Mary by a poor tailor in Cuapa. Fantastic read!

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