according to Greek legend, there once existed a man named Narcissus. cruel and vain in his affections with others, he was soon cursed by a vengeful goddess — in order that he might understand the pain he had inflicted upon those who had attempted to love him, he was doomed to fall in love with one who would never love him in return.
one day, Narcissus, weary and thirsty from hunting, found his way to a gleaming pond in a small woodland clearing. seeking a handful of water, he bent down, but instead, found himself faced with his own reflection. thinking he had come face to face with a beautiful water-spirit, he remained there, entranced by what he saw: red, youthful cheeks and gently curving lips; a lean, powerful body and a brawny neck; perfect ringlets of hair, and sparkling and dancing eyes.
it was in this way that Narcissus fell in love with himself.
the curse of the goddess unfolded as Narcissus sat, trapped by his own reflection. all thought of food or rest escaped him. the face he ached to touch – yet who disappeared every time he brought his hand close to the water – consumed him. his desire plagued him and made his heart restless. days and nights passed. winds changed. leaves from ancient trees fell overhead. yet all the while, Narcissus remained stationary, unaware.
with time, his youth, his strength, and his beauty began to fade . . . until finally, ensnared by his dimming reflection, there, at the edge of the pond, Narcissus met death — perishing at the hand of what he loved.
there once was a time when man did not concern himself with his reflection. one’s image could be glimpsed in water or against polished stone, but such a reflection was not true to form – somehow distorted or obscured by the imperfection of the material — and thus, was only a fleeting part of life.
eventually, when the proper formula for reflective coatings was discovered, the mirror became commonplace. yet, despite its uses, one could not stand in front of it for long without arousing judgement, nor could the image seen be preserved beyond the present moment.
but then, came photography — and moments, once lost to the passage of time, were now able to be captured and and immortalized. film, then digital. a camera which only looked away, then one which looked back. photo albums stacked on dusty shelves opened from time to time, then photo streams at the finger’s tap, an endless scroll forever.
when God created us, He placed our eyes outward and connected the pathway of sight to our mind. vision was designed for perceiving and interpreting those things which would lead us to elevation – the world around us and its manifest signs, the knowledge of those before us and their lessons, the hands in front of us and their actions, the feet beneath us and their courses, the faces of those around us and the divine messages written in them.
we were not made to gaze upon our own faces, yet today, we are constantly surrounded by them. no longer distorted or blurred, but high-definition. not just true reflections, but adjusted, filtered, smoothed out, heightened likenesses of our selves. like Narcissus, we have stumbled upon the edge of the pond of our infatuations, and have been made captive by the reflection found there: our red, youthful cheeks and perfectly pouted lips; our slender bodies and calculated stances; our looks, our expressions, and our inexhaustible gaze into the abyss of our own eyes.
the moment we fell prey to this ruse, turning our eyes away from sights greater than ourselves, we began that smooth descent into darkness. where once we sought an eternal spirit, we began to seek a passing shadow. where once we raised our hands seeking a God above, we now did so to exalt — capturing with the right angle — the gods we had made of our own selves.
days and nights are passing. winds are changing. leaves are falling from ancient trees overhead. with each second, our youth, our strength, and our beauty dims. the spirits of old watch over us, singing this mournful tune:
what we love will kill us or save us…
what we worship will damn us or free us…
yet still, we sit, unable to tear ourselves away from this feast of our eyes. what is worse, is that we have made common our desire for others to follow us in this path — to join us as we fade away from this world having sacrificed our minds at our body’s altar; having perfected nothing but our mistaken desires; having contributed nothing solid, nothing true, nothing of lasting worth…
so that this, is all that remains. this, all that we leave behind.
a wistful sigh at the edge of a pond the only proof, that we were ever here at all.
“Have you seen him who has taken his desire to be his god and whom Allah has led astray knowingly, and set a seal upon his hearing and his heart, and put a blindfold on his sight? So who will guide him after Allah? Will you not then take admonition?” (45:23)