One day when I was a boy of nine or ten, I became acutely aware of borders. My brother Gerard and I went along for the ride to visit Jimmy and Philip Coyle's grandmother in Pelham Manor, New York, a small suburban community surrounded by The Bronx on the south, Mt. Vernon on the west, Pelham on the north, and New Rochelle on the east. I was intrigued to discover that we entered Grandmother Coyle's front door in Pelham Manor and exited her back door in The Bronx, that somewhere within the house we could actually be in two places at once. How fascinating that seemed.
Where one place or time ends and another begins—that line of demarcation—still seems somewhat mystical to me. When the clock strikes midnight a new day starts, and on January 31st, the new year. I think of Janus, the roman god of doorways and entrances—with one head looking backward,the other forward—after whom January is named. With a view to both past and future simultaneously, Janus is fittingly regarded as a symbol of transitions, of those threshold places and moments that so richly represent the passages in our lives, those twilight places and moments when something is no longer quite one thing but not yet another. When does the evening end and the night begin? It’s a subtle shifting at best. As the day itself arrives in darkness and will not dawn for hours to come, so too we ease our way through most transitions in our lives, eventually leaving the old behind in order to give birth to the new. But borders attempt to define what is and to contain it, thereby designating what it is not, by denoting all that lies beyond.
We mark birthdays with a sense that we are no longer "x" but are now "y," elatedly when we are young, and—for most—less enthusiastically as the years recede behind us. And yet, we tend to age with a gradual easing into the years that await us, usually too busy to notice that time is leading us across a series of “borders.” “Life is what happens to you,” John Lennon wrote, “while you're busy making other plans.” Perhaps that’s why we rely so on rituals to mark the passages in our lives, to take time to acknowledge, to celebrate, to notice those occasions: births, baptisms, and birthdays; bar/bat mitzvahs, confirmations; drivers licenses and commencements; engagements, marriages, and divorces; retirements, anniversaries, deaths—passages all, borders from one place in our lives to another. And every one in its own right worthy of notice.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
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