Home > Life, Maybe there IS a God... > Reflections of Philadelphia: A Final Remembrance of Mark Werden

Reflections of Philadelphia: A Final Remembrance of Mark Werden

A towering structure of mirrored glass, intent not on its own perfection but on reflecting the grandeur of those around it, never truly understanding its own beauty.

I sat at breakfast that morning staring out the window at an edifice that magically disappeared into the backdrop of buildings, one that seemed to exist entirely to cast back the beauty of the city around it. The image became a metaphor for trying to create a picture in my mind’s eye of my old friend Mark Werden this weekend on a pilgrimage to express our brotherly, and sisterly, love in the wake of his untimely passing.

We gathered together in his adopted home town of Philadelphia, friends and loved ones, to share the pieces of his life that included us. We made fun of his preening nature and his propensity toward full-on Narcissism. He’d always felt compelled to perform and entertain for any audience that would have him and he knew how to make the most of his physical attributes, attracting both men and women to his gentle spirit.

As we wandered aimlessly through the city, I could see him running around in a display of giant game pieces that were erected as interactive art outside of one building. He would have been playing and laughing with me and the goofy teenaged girls — now grown women — who had congregated here to see him off.

I saw him in the murals that had been painted on the massive walls of old broken down buildings in an effort to revitalize the city 10 years ago. His appreciation of beauty would have made for a grand tour if he’d been there to lead it.

I suppose he might have scoffed at our desire to see the historical section, trite as it can seem with all the tourists snapping pictures of the official birthplace of America, but he would have told us all about the wardrobe of the period, reflecting his vast knowledge of all things vintage.

He might have persuaded us not to go back to our hotel rooms and lounge out for the evening on our beds full of fluffy pillows and warm heavy blankets. He would have known where the fun places were and would undoubtedly have shown us a fabulous time.

Eventually, we saw even our most basic common bond with him at the “Bodies” exhibit at the Franklin Institute as we observed the perfection of the human body, the intricate machine that can’t seem to be truly replicated except by nature. Now contained in a small box of ashes, Mark had once been mere flesh and bone just like these people, a body vulnerable to the ravages of disease just like ours, yet he seemed so much more than that…. at least in my memory…

As I learned more about the subjective nature of the magnificent computer we call the human brain, I began to see some of the flaws in the reflection he kept gazing into. Scientists have sliced and diced the brain from all sides and directions, looking for the secrets of its mystical properties, but still the answers elude. They can’t explain the distortion that happens between the information perceived through the senses and its translation to the brain any more than they can illuminate the reasons for the choices we make that damage our lives. Neither can they quite describe why the heart breaks when a loved one disappears before our very eyes.

We looked at this tower of a man, each of us seeing our own personal reflection in the mirrors he held up to us. I don’t think we understood until this weekend how his strong arms had gently bent the sides of those mirrors to make us see a more perfect version of ourselves. Wide faces were made more narrow and angular, broad waists became slim and long. But the other side of that mirror reflected a different image, creating by its convex bend a mass of our imperfections and throwing them back at him. I suppose the biggest problem with mirrored glass is that no matter how hard we try to see what’s behind it, we can’t. We can only see reflected back at us the images our own brains perceive. We just see ourselves, and our own perceptions of memory…

We looked for answers this weekend about a man who essentially vanished from many of our lives, who had ducked behind that mirror each time we sought him out. Conversations with people who had known him at various times felt a little like a trip through a fun house, seeing image after distorted image as we tried to get a glimpse of who Mark had become.

Yet for a brief moment we were able to step through the looking glass that was his shield as we entered the tiny antique shop that had become his passion in the past few years. An eclectic collection of wonderfully chunky antique furniture was upstaged only by Mark’s exquisite taste in vintage women’s clothing, with pieces masterfully displayed throughout the space and highlighted that day by a buttercup yellow Chanel suit, his most recently purchased treasure. We fought to hold back our emotions when we discovered that on each of the items in the store was a tag, written in Mark’s own hand, neat and crisp as always, describing with his characteristic flair the value of each piece that had been so carefully chosen.

It was here that the deceptive mirror of Mark’s life shattered before us and we each carefully gathered up a jagged shard that could either cut us deeper or be a reflection from a dear friend of who we really are now. We could see, at least in a sense, the truly beautiful man our friend had become as he finally bared the difficulties of his own life to allow us to see the redemption possible in our own. Through his partner we could feel the sense of real value he had found in himself by choosing someone who so well reflected him – not as a mirror image but a perfect complement whose opposing qualities fulfilled those missing in his own psyche.

We are all mirrors for each other, bending and shaping the reflection back to each other as needed, but striving to not interfere with the image that most needs to be seen. It takes great love and courage to allow the “reflectee” to see him or herself for who they really are so that they may learn to truly love the person behind the mirror….as much as we do….

  1. January 26, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Just beautiful. Your thoughts on this read like gentle waves lapping the shore, while me thought feel like a whirlpool sucking me down. I think I’ll be revisiting this one from time to time.

  2. Mama Nance
    January 26, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    I think there must have been some good fight in Mark through the years of his life …”Rocky” style that is. Based on the crowded church service I attended, we can conclude he truly was a “winner” to many of you.

  3. Keith
    January 26, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Ellen, again your words sing to my soul. The tears rolling down my cheeks are a combination of laughter, for that is what mark loved, and sorry, for the loss of a sweet spirit, an old friend, and a man that loved life, with all the good and bad that went along with it. You open my mind and my heart with your words Ellen, and for that, I thank you, and love you!!

  4. Ted E. Kinson
    January 26, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    Once again you express what each of us feel, but can not seem to find words to say. I did not know Mark as well as most of you, and had only met him through some of you who gathered on his behalf. It is through your spoken and written word, I can only imagine, how wonderful a soul he really was. I’m sure he knows of your love for him, and your sorrow of his passing.
    I remember other friends better and clearer, through your written word, and return to those chapters to revisit old friends lost, for a smile, and a much needed chuckle.
    Thank you Ellen.

  5. Brad Smith
    February 14, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Ellen….So happy have come across this on such a SPECIAL day…VALENTINES DAY!…..Your writing captures so much emotion as I read and re-read this as not to miss a thing. It has been a most difficult transition here both at home and in the shop. I still keep thinking he’s going to come thru that door with his silly grin and FINALLY get even with me for all the practical jokes and countless times that I “GOT HIM”. There are many tears that still fall as each day it seems as there is yet another person that I have to share the unfortunate news with. GREAT MAN he was! He left us all with some GREAT memories! and he is truly missed. I’m so glad that we got to meet up Ellen….Thank you for this wonderful gift this Valentines Day!

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