05/24/2016 04:34 EDT | Updated 05/25/2017 05:12 EDT

The Borders Of Life

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Country road at dusk

Some authors are like old friends. The connection is immediate. A sentence will suddenly jump out. You know it was put there specifically to snatch your attention. Those authors do it over and over in every book they write.

So it is with Mary Pipher, an author I admire for many reasons. In her book Writing to Change the World I snapped to attention as a line grabbed me.

"Everything really interesting and powerful happens at borders. Borders teem with life, color, and complexity."

So true!

That sent my thoughts racing off in different directions contemplating the many borders in life. Those life borders are brimming "edge habitats" that Pipher speaks about in her book. Our personal lives, career, retirement, all have borders between one stage and another. They are full of a wide range of complex emotions.

I began digging back through personal life stages looking at all the borders that teemed with color and complexity. The border between elementary and high school. The fear and trepidation of that new world of being a teenager. Then a similar fear coupled with desire for independence that engulfed me as I left and moved away from home. I remember that first rush of freedom, without the safety net of home, finally making my own decisions.

There is the border time between being single and being partnered. That time of excitement, anticipation leading up to the commitment. Then there is the border between being a couple and starting a family. The empty space you want to fill together. A border time full of anticipation.

I clearly remember arriving at my due date for my first child and thinking "OK now what?" Such a mystery -- birthing. I wondered how it all really worked. How does this baby get from here, looking at my stomach, to there, looking at the cradle? The adjective "broody" is often associated with this border time awaiting motherhood. Awed -- and a bit scared -- by the future and all its potential.

Then, whether it is a few years or many years later, the border between being married and being single again might be one you face. The time from when a relationship is working to knowing it is over. The angst riddled hours spent talking it through together or alone in your own head. Or that titillating border between desiring an affair and acting on those wants.

Health decline and loss with a partner is another border time. Facing the inevitable but clinging to hope.

There are other border times in our lives.

We start careers acquiring the skills and confidence to complete the job. Fast forward again -- through several jobs perhaps -- to retirement and there is another border time. Along with it the transition from late middle age to old age. Unnerving, somewhat fearful and unpredictable.

Sideways Thoughts About Borders.

The notion of borders brought other imagery to mind. When I read Pipher's words, for some reason, I recalled a scene with Arlo Guthrie in the movie Alice's Restaurant. He looked at a No Trespassing sign and realized on the other side of the fence "It didn't say nothing." The border. All about perspective.

Ursula Le Guin has an appropriate quote "what was inside it and what was outside it depends upon which side you were on."

In Arlo's case, being on the inside of the fence was much less restricting than being on the outside of the fence.

Borders can be rigid, like a fence, or fluid, like a stream, and often both at different times. They can flow into each other. They can be clearly defined or ambiguous. Borders can very narrow or very wide.

The border between acts in the theatre has changed considerably over the years. Where, previously, at the interval, you would turn to your partner and make conversation, times have changed. Sit in any theatre and as the lights come up after the act so do the LED lit phone screens. There's little discussion and lots of posting to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. What was a communal border time has become more singular.

Other Borders To Contemplate:

  • The borders between religions.
  • Doctors without Borders.
  • What tips the scales in the border between envy and jealousy? Between love and hate?
  • The border between the truth and a lie. Euphemistically called omission perhaps?
  • The borders between musical genres. Rockabilly to rock for example.
  • The border between math and science.
  • What is the border called before anticipation, relief, happiness, or sadness?
  • How would a bridge factor into a border?
  • Are you at a border time in life? Is it fluid or restrictive? And what side of that border are you on?

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