What is a reflection?
In scientific jargon it is a change in the direction of a wave front at an interface between two different media, and as a result the wave front returns into the medium from which it originated. Somehow the scientific explanation takes away the beauty, sensuality, and deeper meaning of the word.
A picture-perfect reflection of a mountain or a meadow into a lake compels us to pause and take note. Both components — the mountain and its reflection — become a seamless tapestry of wonders where clouds drift effortlessly and birds soar in a wide-open sky. It is real but at the same time contrived and transitory. Toss a stone onto the mirror-surface, and the image becomes surreal and ethereal. It takes us into a realm where perceived reality vanishes in an instant and morphs into a realm that is fleeting, flexible, and while still connected to the reality at the edge of the water, is quite capable of presenting a different face.
It is true of a mirage also. Is it a shimmering reflection, which may have some reality to it, or is it an imaginary oasis materializing out of hot desert air? Where does the reality and imagination become one and we are unable to separate them?
One could extend the analogy of real and perceived images to human relationships and just about anything else we do or expect in our lives. Is it real or perceived? Is it true or just a distorted reflection of truth? Does the love expressed between two people have a firm foundation like the mountain and the trees that are reflected in water or is it only a mirage? In our life journey, we often experience the dropping of pebbles on the tranquil surface of our stable lives. The edge where reality and image meet becomes our stable point of reference. It serves as a visual anchor when the surface is disturbed and does not reflect.
Even small, insignificant-looking puddles hold the magic of reflected surroundings. Like the shards of a mirror, scattered here and there, they give us tantalizing glimpses of a reflected landscape. It is as if the puddles have captured the magic, and anyone with interest and inclination can peer through them.
The late Pakistani English poet Daud Kamal said it beautifully in one of his poems:
See how I have struggled to trap
yesterday’s sunlight in a handful of water
I often wonder about the reality or permanence of what we see with our eyes. Is there something more, something different that we see or are not able to see, discern, and understand? To put it in the jargon of physics, is there another elusive dimension that we are not able to perceive? Are there any other altars, other than the altar of Newtonian physics that, unbeknownst to us, beckons?
Perhaps Ghalib, a 19th century Urdu poet from India, was thinking of the same when he wrote:
Not to see the ocean in the drop
And complete in the fragmentary,
Would be the ideal pastime of a child,
Not the vision of the Seeing Eye.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon and a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org