Living in the In-Between: Rethinking Borders and Personal Identity

Re-thinking Borders and Personal Identity: Living in the In-Between

It’s taken me over a year since my retirement from teaching school after 34 years to realize that for this past year, I have been living in what Gloria Anzaldua calls “la frontera” or the borderlands. Such places are characterized by transitions, multiplicities, shifting identities and contradictions. They are places which can be debilitating or, if experienced in a positive way, very generative.

For me, this border runs through much of my life’s geography. Passing through menopause, seeing my children become independent adults, walking my son down the aisle and finishing my 34 year teaching career, all within a relatively short time has left me staggering in the dark and questioning my raison d’etre.

In short – I guess I am having a post mid-life existential crisis.

And it’s been a pretty wild one, complete with disatrous missteps, renewed connections, emotional highs and lows, spiritual crises, and way too much time to think about it all.

Funny, though, with all of the time and thinking I have done, it wasn’t until yesterday that it all came together for me – the epiphany I have been waiting for.

My teacher self, formerly known as Mrs. Pincus has ceased to be. At least as someone who exists in the here and now. She is a memory — for me and for the thousands of students she had the privilege of teaching in Philadelphia. And she did some good work – some really good work and the impact of that work lives on in the lives that she touched. But she will never do that work again. Mrs. Pincus is dead. Long live Mrs. Pincus.

I am in a borderland right now, in a state of “in-between” – a place, philosopher Maxine Greene has said, where people can achieve their full humanity with one another – a place that “emerges through a web of relationships, woven through authentic disclosures.”

Recognizing this has given me some peace and brought an internal calm to what had been up to this point a very unsettling year. It’s helped me understand what I have been seeking this year – why I have craved deep emotional connection while veering away from it at the same time. Now, I can slow down and observe the landscape, much like I would do if I were entering a new country for the first time. I can listen to the sounds of the language, savor the new tastes, hear the new music, see the nuances of color and light, try to get to know the people, read the history and literature, find the landmarks, enjoy the possibilities and the beauty of this fertile place on the border. I can open myself up to the wonder, be enervated by not knowing what’s coming next and let myself be amused, astonished even, by all of the changes going on inside of me. I can try to know others and let myself be truly known.

I do not have to hurry to leave this place, this frontera, this borderland. I can love, linger and learn in the in-between.

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