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  • Writer's pictureJae Hodges

The Border Between . . .

In his novel, Austerlitz, W.G. Sebald said "the border between life and death is less impermeable than we commonly think." (p283) This is spoken by a man who, in old age, is searching for his identity, the him that existed before he was placed on the orphan train, before the devastation wrought by the Nazis in WWII Czechoslovakia, never to see his family again except through a sense of familiarity with people, things and places that finally thrust him toward his reclamation. When I read this line, I didn't necessarily see the "life and death" part as the only interpretation, but could easily substitute any number of opposing forces that provide the anchor posts of our lives. Love and hate. Rich and poor. Fact and fiction, or if you prefer, truth and lies. Good and evil. I also needed to give more thought to "less impermeable". My book coach would have me simplify this for the reader, to avoid any unnecessary confusion. Instead of impermeable, meaning "not permitting passage (as of a fluid) through its substance" (Merriam-Webster Online), then qualifying it with less, a rather weak way to dodge a negative thought, I might have chosen to say more penetrable. Emphasize the positive, give the reader a sense of what's absolutely possible versus what might only be rarely possible. In life we are but one step away from death. As we get closer to one, the other becomes more clear, takes on meaning. Without hate, there could be no love. What are rich and poor but measures of quantity? Today you may be rich (in money, but also kindness, compassion, opportunity, etc) but tomorrow may see you poor. One person's truth is another's lie. It's all perspective. And is not a mis-step, a bad decision the judge between good and evil? Yet we all make mis-steps and bad decisions every day. The point is, we move between these poles, as a fluid, frequently, routinely, willingly. And we're the better for it, for you cannot truly understand, and appreciate, one without understanding, and appreciating, the other. I like this picture as a representation of this because it shows an actual barrier--the rough worn wooden fence, disregarded, left to deteriorate blocking the large pristine house. But it also shows that the distance between a beautiful house and a poverty-stricken street, or the time between a serene blue sky and raging clouds, can be so small as to be unnoticeable. See how the the sky, and the shadows, and the peeling paint all speak in one color?

Cozumel, Mexico, May 2019

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