Tuesday, November 20, 2007

un chant nouveau

"Here at the portal thou dost stand,
and with thy little hand
Thou openest the mysterious gate
Into the future’s
undiscovered land."

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, To A Child

If the measuring of our days and years is a marking of events and milestones, this recent season of many changes is perhaps a small portion of one greater threshold I have yet to fully perceive. Each of us can be our own documentary historian or statistician, as our imaginations will incline, choosing to appraise the moments that re-route our lives’ directions. And points in time may not necessarily have standardized durations. We cannot always know what is happening beneath the surface. Can the momentous manifest over a lengthened stretch of time, as well as in the twinkling of an eye? In the same sense, there cannot be one rigid surface-measurement for a threshold of the spirit. I may consider a year of thresholds, or a threshold of years. Some of us may retrospectively notice finite spans of time, such as our schooling years, considering numerous transitions as part of one impressionable passage. During my first September after graduating from college, I finally noticed having advanced away from the long shadow cast by consecutive school years beginning at the age of four. Alongside our perceptions is the mystery of realizing avenues presented to us by our circumstances (seemingly enforced), balanced with those we can determine for ourselves. Occasionally, we actually have a say in the matter. For a number of years, it had been necessary for me to work three- and sometimes four- simultaneous jobs, in order to survive. When there were projects of fixed-length, I had to continue to find new ones, in a constant pursuit. But the rewards came in the form of being able to make many rejuvenating retreats, finding ways to coordinate the time with my employers. In varying proportion there are time spans imposed upon us, beyond which we can find the journeys we choose to embark upon- and even change.

Transplanting the personal effects of two decades of daily life into a new home has provided yet another tangible threshold traversal. Though not to draw an over-importance to the occasion, the lasting impression is that of an initial enthusiasm for a new context for a new life, mixed with nostalgia for what had been simpler and staid. After that, a focused desire to move forward, and leave behind portions of the past that can cloud the brightness of this season and those to follow. And the plain, exhausting physical work ensued- a combination of heavy labor and delicate transport; enough immediacy to divert from much self-reflection. Where will the writing-table go? From there, seeing the mixture of everything from childhood artifacts to the day’s mail, heaped into an undecorated, darkened, and unheated space, generated a restless regret for the comfort I left behind. Now, the irreversible barrier of time’s increase causes me to reckon, take stock, and know not to even entertain looking back. And the life-giving forward-looking neutralizes the lure of the past.

A year of travels and transition winds again into the country of cold weather. Pilgrimage may be comprehended as a year of many days’ transition, or more broadly as an unfolding voyage, prefaced and accompanied by years of transformation. But surely not simply change for the sake of change; by choosing to move forward, albeit while seeing through the proverbial glass darkly, we can indeed journey from one fulfillment to another. The future is not meant to be a replication of the past. At times the new scenery is tangibly before us, in forms of foreign lands and living spaces, or simply in the ways our vision of the ordinary is transformed. Though my hands are cold as I type these words, bundled in outer clothing in this chilled apartment, my books are on their shelves and I’ve put some pictures on some of the walls. The place is clean and presentable, save for the still-packed material that will either be kept or discarded. This process has permitted me to detach from such heavy anchors as material possessions can become. A sense of home will follow, just as it had in my previous place. Just the other day, during a respite at the Boston Athenaeum, something of a home from home, amidst many familiar reminders, it suddenly became possible for me to "re-approach" the new living space back in Portland. Sensing the connotation of importance in everyday occurrences, in the miraculous eloquence of the simplest nuances in this season’s light and air, in the cadence of familiar conversant voices, are subtle reminders of mutual encouragement between my friends and me. I know I am not alone. Such is the good sort of anchor, in a safe harbor; a homecoming following a tumultuous passage. Not only is it good to take stock in what I find hopeful, but it is a gift in itself to be able to take stock. The winter is indeed a fresh start, and it reveals within a springtime of the heart.

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