With a final splash and sputter, I finished scrubbing my face and, after I'd rehung the towel, I reached for the comb. However, as I turned to the mirror, the comb lost its interest and I simply looked at myself. Usually I was far too busy with thermometers and footprints to notice that--
I was really quite handsome.
Somehow it was my eyes that I noticed the most in the mirror now; they were intense, deep and spiritual in appearance. A bright and determined light flickered within. I seemed to become aware, for once, that I was alive—a man, full of thoughts and passionate ideas and plans. Yet I knew, somehow I knew as I looked at myself, that I would never grow any handsomer, nor be brighter of mind. This was it, and it was gloomy to know, in the same way it is gloomy to walk in the long light of a summer even, when the next day sunshine shrinks to winter.
I saw my expression turn from fascination to resigned depression. Every human is destined to grow, bloom and die. There is no exception. As my brother died, so must I. And how I wished I did not have the unpleasant business of dying ahead of me! How I wished men did not have to have this haunting shadow floating about them, even in their most private and glorious moments. You will die, John. You will fade; you will be alone. The time is set, but you shan't know it until the end.
"What a marvelous surprise it will be," I said bitterly, leaning closer to the mirror and touching smudge of grey I'd just noticed in my mustache. I leaned my head against the mirror, releasing a sigh. It wasn't that I mourned the inevitability of losing colour from my hair—or the hair itself. I was not so vain.
What I mourned was the terror that smudge implied and preceded; the knowledge that one day I should lose first the power to work…then the strength to walk…and only then in my moment of need would I know if any would be willing to care for me. Should I be helpless, doomed to suffer? Would I be mocked? Perhaps I would live in a poorhouse. Perhaps worse.
Most hellish of all: I could do nothing to stop this descent into feebleness. Certainly I could take care of my body, but I was not so deceived as to think with strenuous exercise I could live forever. No. Decrepit and weak I would be one day, there was no stopping it. How can the world stay sane, I wondered? how can the world not run about screaming in mad fear? Don't they understand that we will all die? Don't they understand that their bodies will break down, as certain as clockwork, don't they see?
Oh Lord, help me. My eyes dim with shameful tears, but I am so afraid. God have mercy on me in my weakness, but how afraid I am. No man can tell what the future holds in terms of time, and who knows but I would be the last of my friends to die?
I gripped the edge of the sink, overcome.
Only God can give me the strength I need now.