Mirror, mirror, on the wall

Rosemary McLeod
Rosemary McLeod

For ages now I've noticed how the people I know are getting older, though I remain blessed with eternal youth.

There is something to cherish in your own mirror's ability to lie, and how you see in it only what you want to see. In my mind I'm in my prime, and my mirror just smiles back at me. What a pal.

Strange, then, how you look ancient and a bit unfortunate in other mirrors, especially the merciless bathroom mirrors in hotels. You never catch a flattering glimpse of yourself in shop windows, and in stores' changing rooms you look almost as hideous as you do in that other great liar, your passport photograph.

This explains why so many people would rather buy clothes online. Your mirror is friendly, and garments look almost possible in it. Plus you can take deep breaths and calm yourself before you try things on. This is often necessary.

I ignore twists of sudden pain, the permanent quiet twittering of cicadas in my ears and mirrors that tell lies.

Yet I know I'm not a kid any more because the world has changed so rapidly that past evils have become acceptable, and the assumptions and preoccupations of a past I can remember have become quietly, gently, absurd.

My parents lived within, and believed in, tightly constrained social rituals involving good manners and elegant distances, even between good friends. We were an uptight people, hard on ourselves and on others.

Divorce was frowned on; unmarried mothers were too, though the fathers of their offspring didn't concern anyone; contraception was unreliable; cancer was almost certainly a death sentence.

Antibiotics were discovered only when my parents were young. Until then you could be sick in bed for ages with conditions we can cure now in a few days.

People's beliefs and feelings had to be shaped by such realities, even if they caused much misery. We look back and marvel at the madness, but we're bound to look just as crazy one day, probably because of beliefs that seem to us to be intelligent and rational. I doubt anyone can predict which beliefs these will be, and sadly, we probably won't live to see it happen.

I think of the deep, knee-jerk reaction to homosexuality of my mother's time, when male homosexuals were called nancy-boys, a term that baffled me when I was small. What was the problem with cousin Nancy?

I wonder sometimes what my mother's reaction would be on learning that gay people could legally marry. Peals of laughter would be my guess.

But I should give her – and other older people – the benefit of the doubt. Had she lived longer she might well have accepted the change without difficulty; she'd have had her views shaped by the same arguments and the same knowledge as the rest of us, as time went by. She'd have been swayed, too, by beliefs about justice rather than by fearfulness, though she had a habit of colouring in texts in the Bible that suited her arguments, and fire and brimstone rained on such awfulness as the wearing of lipstick by me at 13, and all boozers – as in anyone who drank alcohol.

Neither of us could have predicted the change in attitude to recreational drugs, not after so much hysteria about them when they arrived. Who'd have imagined an international conference would this week devote three days to tinnitus (cicadas in your ears)? Auckland researchers presenting research hope to explore whether this can be treated with MDMA, an ingredient in (illegal) ecstasy.

That an American-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies exists would once have astounded us, but that it may bring new meaning to the term "trippy, man" is the icing on the cake.

A trial group of people with serious depression and terminal illness has just reported fewer depressive symptoms after taking LSD, and those researchers, too, are calling for more volunteers for a bigger study. Just think: counting flowers on the wall could one day ease your way toward the ultimate trip – to baby boomer heaven.

Fairfax Media