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Reflection – an essay – by Paul Stokstad

Posted on Jul 15, 2017 by in August 2017 | 3 comments

The odd thing about seeing your reflection, of course, is that it is not how you look at all, it is quite literally a mirror image of how you actually appear. It’s so odd that you are the one person who can’t see yourself as others do. Unless you find one of those three sided mirrors in a department store, in which there is a reflection of a reflection.

As a kid sometimes I would take a wall mirror and lay it on the floor, and then muse about the upside down room it represented. I imagined jumping down to that ceiling turned floor, and wandering around the house. The question was whether stepping outside in that world would result in falling up into a reversed blue sky, and also, how I would get back up out of that mirror portal, if I wanted to get back to the world of 1962, Cedar Falls, Iowa.

That type of memory is the other sort of reflection.

Here, at 67 and climbing, it starts to seem like I’m an encyclopedia of memories from all these decades…. 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010.

Just mentioning each those years is like whacking a dusty pillow in that they all emit a sort of cloud of events, songs, people, and where/who was I musings.

I think a lot about how many songs I know and/or recognize. Probably tens of thousands. Each one has as if a time-stamp of the moment when it was central in my life, and also a sort of emotional signature for some aspect of actual or internal experience that it encapsulates.

Sometimes it seems like I’m a sort of walking jukebox, wandering around, and when stimulated by a particular experience or thought, some long lost tune drops into a mental slot and I’m humming “We are the Sultans,” “Duke of Earl”, “Baby Love”, “All in the Wonderful Game”, “Disco Inferno” or “Blue Moon.”

One surprising set of tunes in the mix is all of the baptist hymns from my countless sunday mornings (and sometimes wednesday nights) in some baptist church or other singing “Just as I am,” “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” or “How Great Thou Art.”

It seems at times like the people closest to me hardly know me, in that, for example, my 13 year old has no frame of reference for the hours I spent in church, nor for the 50 years and three marriages before I became engaged to his mother.

Indeed, I showed him my high school graduation photo, and he had no idea who it was.

A lot of people tell me that I haven’t aged much, but of course, it doesn’t seem like that to me.

That high school senior is so pretty he could be one of the Lincoln High school girls, but what we have left in 2017 is a much more wrinkled, far less trim human specimen.

Even so, as people often note, the watcher inside still has strong elements of the eleven year old boy, who, even though he knew he was innocent of a lot of worldly matters, already had a sense of gained perspective on life as a an independent observer.

When someone dies, it seems, a whole universe of memories and experiences go with them.

What can we say, for example, about the passing on of a WWII era soldier, for whom Betty Grable pinups were a thing, for whom Kilroy was there, and for whom the Korean war was an insignificant little dustup? What about my Uncle Delaine, who actually fought in that later dustup as a 19 year old Marine in the Chosin Reservoir and came home to Stoughton, Wisconsin housewives begging him for clandestine sex? There are still people walking (or maybe tottering) around who went to debutante balls, or who sat at a segregated lunch counter.

Just the other day I was walking from the garage to the pile of items we have gathered for the dump here at our just-purchased home in the country, and that moment appeared like point on a thin cord that links together all of my moments, public and private, including the time I pole vaulted 12’6”, or the time I was the trainer, producer and emcee of my third or fourth Improv group, or the time when two other hippies and I were part of a happening in the U of Iowa art museum, chanting in droning tones, hidden under a stairway, or the time when I walked with my wife and child deep into the layers of orange and red of the Grand Canyon on our way to Havasu Falls. Plus all the dishwashing, showering, that moment sitting in the New York Macy’s bathroom stall with diarrhea due to bad Caesar salad, or later, staring out across the Pacific at the far west end of the Aliso Creek pier in Laguna Beach.

Reflecting back is, oddly, as backwards as the reflection in a mirror, and perhaps my view of the past is equally unique, and though there is an underlying constant of consciousness underlying the long parade of events, it’s fascinating to carry this enormous archive of added significance, reference, and song along the way.


  1. Thanks RL!

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