It’s all that divides me from the outside world, and vice versa. In the window of my office, built long before double pane and vacuumed sealed units filled with argon gas, the window is but ¼ inch thick, and in the grand scheme of things, that is a substantial barrier.
Such a section of glass keeps out all but the sturdiest of winds, the rain, the cold, the heat… it protects the interior and more delicate aspects of the building; whereas the exterior components are made to withstand the elements. Oil based paints, and aluminum clad guttering shine through the haze of subzero winter, and then seem to vaporize in the summer heat, rising in the midst of the mirage. However, the several parts do their good work, and render the office, within the house, as a habitable place–a comfortable place, and one which lasts, year after year.
The same thickness, perhaps somewhat thinner, protects the irreplaceable photographs throughout the room and rest of the house. Hidden safely, behind the thin layer, are fragile prints, which we try to keep from the direct sunlight. However, even though varying amounts of protection are sought after, it is without fail that, even when shielded behind the glazed surface, those prints become fragile and if not properly matted, will eventually adhere to the otherwise clean and bright surface, peeling away the images of yesterday if one were to clumsily release them from a frame in a moment… and without realizing what had happened, the image of perhaps 100 years is gone, never to return, and only to live in one’s memory, and to eventually fade from that memory and out, into the careless winds of time.
Such is life, in general. Our routines are safely guarded by thin layers of protections; jobs, family, places of residence… perhaps the habit by which we walk to the mailbox. All of these rituals in life are but protectors, and they do their job well. As the glass in the window protects the interior of the building from ruination by the natural element of our world, and the glass over the treasured photograph preserves the otherwise dead and gone image…. And only the image– our daily windings across the pathways of others protect us, and safeguard our innermost and more often than not, most fragile contents. The routine is our shell, it is the protector, and it is the presentation, through which the world may see us, but cannot touch us! Much as the glass covers the picture, the route taken to the corner grocery covers our actions, and keeps us safe in our otherwise unpredictable surroundings. Thus, knowingly or not, we learn to depend on our surroundings; and we treat them as one would treat the window pane or the beautiful and intricate carved frame which holds the glass of the picture, firmly in place.
Take away the careful miter in the corner of that frame, and the airtight frame is now exposed. The life-giving and yet oxidizing effects of the life that we breathe will, in time, ruin and wrinkle the photo, crack the paint on the window sill, and mar the plaster beneath with cracks and bulges caused from the trapped moisture. The house cannot survive even the smallest of imperfections around its protectors, at least not for very long. The builder designed it as such, to behave in that manner. Accordingly, the carpenter at his box of angles carefully cut the frames corners and conjoined them, tightly fitting the glass in place. All this he did, knowing that at some point, a priceless image, a memory, an unmistakable and irreplaceable portion of one’s life would rest in that cocoon. And so, the miters are tight, and where there were gaps, a putty was used, to seal indefinitely the space against that which was without.
My frame, the parameters of protections that have served well for so many years, are faltered now. Through nothing else than by a shifting of winds, a whirlwind if you will, has the putty between the miters been compromised. The builder, in this case is not at fault, except that perhaps less putty, and a tighter frame might have benefited the construction. However, even then, I am afraid that all of the weather which has been so threatening would not have been kept out forever.
As a young boy, I and my group of compatriots found, in an abandoned homestead out beyond a cornfield, an old trunk, which stood at the foot of a rusted bed frame, the mattress and springs were now long gone. As boys will do, without question or prompting, the clasp on the trunk stood little chance and even if it were not for the weathered and deteriorated mechanism, our efforts would have broken the lock within a minute or so. But, as it happened, and most likely because the lock was nearing 50 or more years in the elements, it gave way easily. In the bottom of the wooden structure, were mementos of someone’s life, lived long ago. The figures upon the paper were so badly decomposed that they might have well have been the actual bodies of those people represented, which were I’m sure just as badly unrecognizable and stained with water and mud in their graves, buried among the family plot, not 30 feet away.
At that young age, I understood that importance. I’m not sure if my friends did or not, and at this point, I no longer care. They have their own images to worry about; images which tarnish in the mirror day by day, and inch closer to resembling those in the trunk which were found that day. Interestingly enough–if the ramshackle cabin and trunk were still there, and I know that they are not, were it up to us, the photographs and letters; the crumbling bits of paper, would have still been there too. We didn’t ever remove them from the place. Instead, each might have been picked up and looked at a number of times, perhaps one time too many, until it fell into dust, and settled along the sides and bottom of the trunk. But, they were never taken from that place, and as far as I know, the place burned, presumably with all of the unrecognizable contents perishing in the flames, within sight of the graves of those who owned it, who built it, and who at one time–cherished it.
They too, put up panes of glass around the house. Also, they framed the pictures, and possibly the letters, which were carefully placed for safekeeping in the trunk, at the foot of a bed. Their lives, at some point, followed a pathway and ritual which protected them from their unknown. And yet, within my young and wonderfully constructed protections, I was able to view, unabashedly, the remains of what was left of theirs. Of those whose names I did not and still do not know. What I saw, so many years ago, is the beginnings of what is now occurring in this life–behind these protections. At such a time, when we feel our own barriers begin to give way, and the winter wind licks the corner of the inside of the pane; when moisture finds its way through a gap in the glazing; I wonder–how long before the remains of what I have stored away in my trunk are discovered?
My hope is that, knowing some discovery will be made, that the hands which come upon me and my belongings, will not disturb them any more than is necessary to understand… not what they have succumbed to, in the solitude of darkness; but rather, what they were, what I remembered them to be… in my light of day!
First Published January 28, 2015 at 3:57 a.m.