My newfound love for mirrors

I usually poke a little fun at scientists on Valentine’s Day. Or maybe I make fun of Valentine’s Day by talking about science. Being a scientist, I’m not exactly sure which it is. The two concepts seem to be incongruous somehow. But cold logic and red-hot emotion can make for interesting and amusing columns.  Only this year feels different.

Last week I wrote about broken mirrors. This week I had the opportunity of standing, with my wife, between two large facing mirrors. A peculiar phenomenon results as one sees his reflection in a mirror behind him into the mirror before him, and vice versa. The images recede to seeming infinity in both directions. I’m sure there are others who have had this experience. But considering how rare mirrors have been in the past and how many people on Earth today probably don’t have ready access to mirrors, it seems the number of people who have seen such images must be small. Standing between these mirrors, with my wife, made it meaningful in a Valentine’s sort of way.

It put me in mind of how it must feel to see the Earth from space. An astronaut has the perspective of great distance. The mirrors give the impression of time perspective. It’s like being able to see yourself far into the future as well as being able to look back into the past. 

Standing in front of facing mirrors, I imagined the receding images as generations yet unborn. If I concentrate on the images projected forward, each reflection of oneself becomes smaller and smaller, just as our genetic influence also recedes. I wonder how much influence my example and life will have on generations yet unborn. 

My wife and I fell in love and had four children. Now we have 17 grandchildren. Who will they fall in love with? How many great-grandchildren will there be? Can we envision our offspring “as numerous as the sands of the sea” as Abraham was promised? What are the genetics involved? What influence will we have had? Does anyone worry about these things anymore? 

As I look into the mirrors, I can also see images receding behind. It makes me wonder what influence my great-great grandfather, who died in the Civil War, has had on my life. How am I like him? He fell in love, married and had a son he never saw because he was killed in that war. 

I knew a great-grandfather born in 1864. He died when I was 15. He fell in love with my great-grandmother, Sadie, and they had just one child. I remember him “rattling the bones” and singing a love song to my great-grandmother on their 60th wedding anniversary. That sure had an influence on me.

Valentine columns have always seemed like an easy place to get a good laugh until I stood between the two mirrors. Suddenly the genetics of the past and future seemed pretty connected to falling in love and valentines. The possible influences of my life and behavior on future generations seemed to matter a little more. The rough and tumble world of western Colorado, back over five generations, suddenly seemed more meaningful too. 

Many years ago, on that mountain over there,

A young man sought a wife, his life to share.

She was poor and pretty and he was pretty poor.

She offered him fresh bread when he came to the door.

He took her for his wife and gave to her his name,

And taught his son to play the poet game. 


New branches grow from fallen trees.

The roots are the same ones that once fed me.

So, lift your head and dry your eyes.

It’s just another day to be born and die.

You’ve got the blood, you’ve got the name,

Now teach your sons to play the poet game.


Happy Belated Valentine’s Day!

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.


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