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Through the Glass

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Sometimes, when I’m giving tours at the Bowers Museum on the weekends, I catch a glimpse of myself reflected in the museum’s shiny plexiglass artifact cabinets. From the way the light catches the cases, it looks like I’m inside the case with the artifact, or like the artifact is an extension of my body—two parts to a whole, shimmering, growing, and shrinking as the dimmed lights dance across the plexiglass.

I've been a junior docent at the Bowers for four years now, and each time I go to the museum, I feel a growing connection to the cultures behind each artifact. When I’m wandering the galleries between my tours, it’s easy to imagine joining my reflection beyond the plexiglass windows or running out of the museum at a moment’s notice to catch the next flight to China or Egypt.

My Egyptian gallery tours at the museum usually start the same way: a small group of 2-3 people, sometimes with children stifling yawns, determined to plow through the exhibit and get their dose of historical knowledge. I always introduce Ancient Egypt through a statue of Isis and Osiris—it provides the perfect opportunity to segue from Egyptian history into Egyptian mythology. The statue also serves as the hook into my tour; if I pique my group’s interest in Egypt at the first artifact, I’ll have an engaged audience ready to learn as much as I have to tell them.

This particular group, a man, his wife, and their elementary-school age son, might be a tough sell. As I start talking about Egypt, the man glances at his watch, the woman at her son, the boy at his shoelaces. But when I begin to tell the myth of Isis and Osiris—particularly, when I reach the part when Seth, Osiris’ brother, murders Osiris and chops up his body—the boy and his parents look up.

“Ew, he cut up the body? That’s so gross!” the little boy exclaims. I can see the gears in his imagination warming up, as he imagines the grotesque situation, casting Isis and Osiris as protagonists in an Egyptian melodrama. His parents, though they don’t want to seem overeager, also stare intently at me, visibly intrigued by the tale of fratricide.

That’s when I know that this group has become hooked. After all, Isis and Osiris are just the tip of the pyramid; as I lead my group through the exhibit, they’ll hear about mummies, tombs, amulets, and a selection of gross-out facts I save for children like the little boy.

Once Isis and Osiris shed their stony exteriors, my groups’ enthusiasm can hardly be contained. They ask me dozens of questions, probing the depths of my Egyptian knowledge bank. They laugh at my Egyptian-themed jokes. They find the hieroglyphs for “thousands” and “offering.” They identify decay on a mummy’s CT scan. As my group becomes more and more engaged, I become more and more animated, trying to bring the Egyptians’ beliefs to life. I look behind me right before we enter the final gallery, and discover that additional museum visitors have joined my tour, trailing after me like paperclips drawn to a magnet.

By the end of my 45-minute introduction to Ancient Egypt, I’m surrounded by a gaggle of children pulling me back through the exhibit to answer their questions. Among them is the little boy from the beginning of my tour; I see his eager face reflected in the plexiglass around a mummy. My image is superimposed behind his, closest to the mummy. He looks down to peer into the mummy’s face and traces the lines of the mummy’s name with his finger. When his parents call him, he glances back longingly at the mummy, then walks away, one shoelace on his Nike’s flapping, untied and unnoticed, on the ground.

As the children are dragged out of the exhibit one by one, I glance back at the display case. Once again, my reflection dances in the glass. It’s like I have one foot in Ancient Egypt and one foot in 21st century Santa Ana. With each tour, I transport people back to the past and teach them about the ancient cultures I love. Hopefully, at the end, they see their reflection in the glass, too.





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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Rosena Marley said...
Apr. 4, 2009 at 2:42 am
Amazing writer!
 
Pig said...
Jan. 26, 2009 at 8:57 am
Engaging. Enjoyed!
 
Irish said...
Jan. 13, 2009 at 10:08 pm
Great story
 
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