Monday, March 21, 2016

Life as a passage

Ferry near Wijk bij Duurstede, Netherlands

“A picture is worth a thousand words”, they say, and there is much truth in it. But can a single photo capture a whole life? I had to think of it when I had taken the photo on the top of this blog. It is for a series of passages I am working on. Maybe some readers remember that I have written also four blogs on this theme in November 2014. Passages are places we have to go through because we are moving from one place to another; from A to B. In a sense, most such places have no meaning for us. We are there only because we cannot avoid them, like the waiting room on an airfield, or the platform on the railway station where we have to change trains. Once we have boarded the airplane or got in the next train, we have forgotten how it looked like, unless we have been there already more often. Also the ferry on the picture is such a passage: A place with hardly any meaning for the casual passer-by, for he or she is only there in order to cross the river, not because it’s such an interesting place. It is a good photo, I think, for everything that has to be on it is on it and nothing more: The row of new arrivals waiting for the ferry; the café where you can take a drink or a simple meal; the river, of course; the ferryboat just crossing the river; the other bank; and the old ferry house on the other side of the river. Therefore, the photo gives a meaningful picture of a meaningless place; or at least meaningless for most of us (not for the ferryman, of course, since for him it’s not a passage but the basis of his living).
However, the longer I look at this photo, the more I become convinced that the image is not as meaningless as it might appear at first glance. Indeed, for the passer-by the ferry is a non-place, as Augé would call it. But aren’t we all passers-by during our whole life? From a certain perspective, life is nothing but a passage or a transit or a thoroughfare, or how you want to call it. We come, stay somewhere for a short time, go, stay elsewhere, go again and so on until we definitively leave. Every stay somewhere, shorter or longer, can be seen as a preparation for the next phase of our transit through life. Some call it an eternal journey, but it is an eternal journal with stops and passages. And the longer I look at the photo, the more I realize that it is this what the photo expresses: The transit of life. Must I explain it? Look at the road, which symbolizes the thread of life. It enters the picture as we enter life at birth (but we don’t see where it starts, just as we cannot see the beginning of the past; and aren’t we the continuation of the past?). We see our fellow travellers (the cars); a place where we can stop for a longer time (the café or the ferry house; maybe we let a ferry pass if we haven’t yet finished our meal). We see the problems we have to overcome (the river) and that we don’t need to overcome the problems alone (the ferryboat; our fellow travellers). And we see the future (the other bank). Or is the river the stream of death like the Styx in Greek mythology that kept the world of the living and the underworld apart? But then the ferryboat must be the boat of Charon, the mythological ferryman.
Without a doubt there is much more in this photo. Look and discover and give it your own interpretation. I am sure that everybody will understand the photo in a different way and will see aspects that I haven’t seen: A picture paints a thousand words, if not ten thousand. It is like life, which can be also be considered in many different ways, even in case we talk about one and the same life.

More passages on


Diana H. said...

Hi Henk, I absolutely agree. Life is a road, always changing, challeging us with unexpected turns, beautiful views, sad lansdcapes, dark passages, a bridge over here, uncertainty most of the time. I remembered yesterday, with my parents, my visit to Europe, and of course you came to my mind. Meeting you (and other dear people) virtually and then in person were moments on this "road" which I have come to appreciate more and more as years go by. The road is there, but all we really have is NOW, the present time, which is already gone... and then our precious memories, to keeps us company when the time is gone.
Take care, my friend.

HbdW said...

Hello Diana,
Thank you for your nice comment. I have nothing to it. We follow our road and it gives us lots of memories, ggod ones, bad ones, joyful ones, sad ones. But let's also have an eye for the details. Some details look so important taken apart but altogether they are essential for our live, like we need the single stones to get the road.
Take care, my friend,