Recognizing Ourselves

I just finished reading a book where a woman woke up with total amnesia. When she looked in the mirror, she freaked out because the face peering back at her wasn’t hers. The face had chubby cheeks, extra chins, and an unfamiliar nose rather than the gaunt, model thin face she was used to.

The woman unknowingly had been a twin, and she and her twin had been in the vicinity of a car bombing. The model-thin twin died. The one who weighed a bit more (just a few pounds — she was far from obese) survived but with total amnesia. (Though she did remember how to talk, and apparently, she remembered how she thought she looked.)

Supposedly, the two women had somehow become mingled in the same body, the reason for the unfamiliar face in the mirror, but to me, that was a cop out. The real story would have been how we see ourselves deep down, beneath thought and memory.

My sister once told me that when she was thirty-five, our mom mentioned that she felt she was thirty-five, thought of herself as thirty-five. My sister thought that was cool, that she and Mother were basically the same age.

In my case, I don’t see myself as young as my mother and sister, though I do tend to think of myself as younger, thinner, more agile than I really am. I certainly don’t see myself as truly young. In fact, I no longer remember who that little girl was, perhaps because I never really did see myself as a child. I always felt old when I was young.

So, if I ended up with no memory of myself, would I freak out when I saw the truth of myself in the mirror? Would I freak out when I felt the truth? (The aches and pains in the morning would certainly discomfit someone who thought they were much younger.)

Once, in my early middle years, I was walking past a store window and caught a glimpse of my mother. I looked around, confused. What was Mother doing in that town so far from where she lived? Not seeing my mother, I looked once more at the reflection in the window, and realized I was seeing myself.

Now that freaked me out! I had no idea I looked so much like my mother at that time. I no longer look like her. In fact, I look more like her mother. Or rather, the photo on my driver’s license looks like a photo I once saw of my grandmother — a faded but staunch and stoic country woman from the old country.

So, if I were to lose all memory of myself, who would I see when I looked in the mirror? Would I see “me”? (Whoever that might be.) Would I look too old? Too heavy? Too sad or morose? Or would I see a pleasant woman with bright eyes and a nice smile? (Assuming, of course, I would be able to smile under such circumstances.) Would I care?

We tend to grow into our bodies, to identify with our bodies, but we are not our bodies. Perhaps, without memory, we wouldn’t even remember ourselves as having a body, so any reflection of ourselves would seem unfitting.

What about you? If you didn’t know who you were, would you recognize yourself in the mirror?

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.